Categorized | Politics, Religion

Is the CBCP violating the separation of Church and State?

The endless meddling of the CBCP in the affairs of the supposedly secular State from one presidency to the next drives people to angrily invoke Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Phlippine Constitution: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. But as tempers cool down and rationality takes over, one begins to wonder if the CBCP is indeed violating this rule.

I am reminded of an article written by one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Dean Emiritus of Ateneo Law School and amicus curiae Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., where he says:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly-burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion …” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the church but to the state. It is the state, after all, which passes laws.

And on other parts of the article he wrote:

That is the “separation part” of the constitutional command. The other part is the “free exercise clause.” Both are embodied in one sentence which says: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

…the negative command of the Constitution is addressed not to bishops or priests but to the state and those who exercise state authority. As to bishops and priests, the pertinent part of the constitutional command is the guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

It does make sense, at least to me. The command was for the State, not the Church, and it is the former that seems to be violating this command by giving weight to what the latter dictates, as can be seen from the following statement of Fr. Bernas:

The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion.

Of course, the state hasn’t really declared Roman Catholicism as the official state religion – just the official consultant on issues and policies that affect all Filipinos, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Fr. Bernas explains:

The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

So it seems that we freethinkers have been barking up the wrong tree all along. While we’ve been making noise about the Church’s meddling, it is actually the State we should be blaming. (Besides, it is the Church’s moral obligation to meddle and try to impose its dogma.)

But the State is highly influenced by the Church, and we can’t touch the Church since it is merely exercising freedom of religion. The picture says it all. While there seems to be a wall of separation between Church and State, God is straddling that wall. This ought to be tolerable, but the problem is that this isn’t just the generic God as the creator of the universe; it has to be a particular brand of God even more specific than the Judeo-Christian God. It is, of course, the Roman Catholic God who says that contraception is evil because the main (sole?) purpose of sex is procreation between married couples and that overpopulation and poverty and the spread of STDs are all caused by immorality and can only be solved if people turn from their evil ways.

So what do we do now? Aside from taking the necessary legal steps to make sure the State observes the separation, I guess we could go for the source of the Church’s power. And I don’t mean God. I’m talking about the followers, who happen to make up the majority of the electorate and whose votes the state politicians are desperate to get. If we could open the eyes of enough people, we will be able to reach critical mass. It may be a long, uphill battle where we gain and lose ground one step at a time, but once we begin to weaken the Church’s influence, I imagine it will be all downhill from there.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.