Teens' white elephant T-shirt venture gets police attention: TODAY
Do read the article, it's pretty well written and I think covers the major issues surrounding this controversy.
The facts are all in the article, so I'm not going to waste space by reiterating them. What I want to focus on is what the Police Spokeperson said because upon closer reading, it's a remarkably revealing statement.
"In view of the nature of the event, we had advised the organisers that they should be aware that the wearing of T-shirts en masse may be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules. Should Police receive any report or complaints, we would have to look into the matter. This is consistent with all reports made to the Police."
[Ed: For those who want to read the relevant act, go to http://statutes.agv.gov.sg and simply type in 184 in the box provided. Note, this is not the rules themselves so it really is of limited use]
On a bare reading of the statement itself, it's a factually and technically correct statement. Again, "In view of the nature of the event, we had advised the organisers that they should be aware that the wearing of T-shirts en masse may be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules". It's true that SOME people might indeed consider this to be an offence and hence report it. And yes, I suppose it would be true that the police would be bound to look into the matter.
The comment that I loved in this article was this, "Commenting on the latest police advisory, a grassroots leader remarked: "There's no reason for them to protest, because the station is going to be opened!"" In the context of the article, I'm taking it to mean that the ladies' actions COULD NOT be misconstrued as a form of protest because of the very fact that they were being worn at the opening ceremony of the station. This of course, would be an entirely different matter if this had been worn to a session to determine whether to open the station.
But even so, I suppose the question I would have to ask then is this. So what? Just because the police is obliged to look into it is really irrelevant to whether these students are allowed by law to wear the shirt. And if they were not, whether this had infringed upon their constitutional right to the freedom of speech, assembly and association as per Art 14 of the Constitution.
Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14. Â?(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) Â?
(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and
(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.
(2) Parliament may by law impose Â?
(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;
(b) on the right conferred by clause (1) (b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and
(c) on the right conferred by clause (1) (c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.
(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.
Obviously, I'm of the opinion that the freedom of speech, expression and assembly is paramount and it's worth noting that the constitution puts this under Part IV i.e. FUNDAMENTAL LIBERTIES. And without going into the caselaw interpreting these articles, I would just like to point that that an extensive interpretation of the freedom of speech as is the case in the USA, is not necessariincompatibleble with the Constitutional article that we have. I am of course aware that the Bill or Rights words this rather different but nevertheless, it is possible to reconcile the resulting law with our Constitution.
Anyway, despite the manner in which the statement was worded, it might still seem that it is a warning against the girls' rights to frspeechach and assembly. Now, putting aside the problem of locus standi i.e. standing, the right to file a suit on the basis of harm to that individual or organisation and the merits of the case for a while, it should be possible to go to court to seek a court order on whether their rights have been infringed and if so, maybe get an injunction against any possible action by the police.
The difficulty then is actually going to court to seek that remedy for the protection of your rights. And I think it's entirely safe to say that the court will hear your suit...if it reaches them. And I think that is the crux of the problem. It's not an inconsiderable process to launch such a suit and if I were them I probably would have done the very same thing. I submit that it would be the entirely rational thing to do.
Which is why perhaps we need an organisation like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) which often represents individuals who find that their civil liberties have been infringed. Such an organisation would of course have the ability and organisational clout and impetus to actually fight these cases than would otherwise be the case if it were individuals facing these situations.
I think they put it well, "If the rights of society's most vulnerable are denied, everybody's rights are impaired". And the current NSA wire-tapping situation in light of how the FBI tapped major civil rights movement leaders including Martin Luther King Junior is a very good example of how a ltargetinging the vulnerable may well end up hurting the rest of society.
Remember Hoover's FBI.