Church gets green light to challenge minister's decision

The Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) building at 3 Marine Parade Central.

Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) has been given the green light by the High Court to proceed with its bid for a judicial review of the Manpower Minister's order that it compensate a pregnant employee who was sacked for supposedly committing adultery.

This paves the way for the church - one of Singapore's largest, with a 10,000-strong congregation - to challenge Mr Tan Chuan-Jin's decision in a later hearing. No date has yet been set for the review hearing.

A judicial review may be requested of the High Court to evaluate the decisions of public authorities, but the party seeking the review must first get leave - or permission - from the court before the review can be convened. Without leave, the case will be thrown out.

Yesterday, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy, who had heard arguments earlier this month, granted leave to FCBC, represented by lawyers Daniel Goh, Adrian Wee and Dominic Chan.

In a statement, FCBC senior pastor Lawrence Khong said he was grateful that the church has been given leave to "seek clarification on the issue".

He reiterated his past statements that the church's objective was to seek guidance from the courts on its rights as a religious organisation to operate within its own parameters.

"We remain respectful of the authorities and acknowledge the Ministry of Manpower's efforts to protect our nation's workforce," said Mr Khong.

An Attorney-General's Chambers spokesman said that the AG, who had objected to FCBC's application for leave, will consider carefully whether to appeal.

The spokesman said, without going into detail, that in giving its decision today, the court had noted the threshold for leave was a low one although there was "some force" in the AG's arguments.

FCBC had argued the dismissal of an administrative employee for sexual misconduct contrary to its teachings was a religious affair and protected by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The AG took the position that the dismissal of an employee who was not a member of the clergy was not a religious affair.

The case concerns an administrative worker at the church who was fired in 2012 for her relationship with a divorced male colleague.

The pregnant woman, who was undergoing a divorce, complained to MOM.

In August last year, Mr Tan, who was then Acting Manpower Minister, decided she was "dismissed without sufficient cause" and ordered the church to pay the woman's salary and maternity benefits of $7,000.

FCBC has made payment, albeit with a note that this did not prejudice its legal rights.

This article was first published on May 30, 2014.
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