Categorized | Politics, Religion

How Religious Party-Lists Circumvent the Separation of Church and State

An anti-Reproductive Health bill group composed of members of the Catholic laity is seeking accreditation from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to run under the party-list name Ang Prolife. While the separation of Church and State prohibits the registration of religious denominations and sects as political parties, the prohibition does not extend to organizations with religious affiliations or to political parties which derive their principles from religious beliefs.

In a Supreme Court decision on the petition for disqualification filed against Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, a party-list group backed by the Catholic charismatic movement El Shaddai, the court remanded the case to the Comelec with the directive to immediately conduct summary evidentiary hearings under the following guidelines for screening party-list participants:

[I]n view of the objections directed against the registration of Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, which is allegedly a religious group, the Court notes the express constitutional provision that the religious sector may not be represented in the party-list system.  The extent of the constitutional proscription is demonstrated by the following discussion during the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission:

“MR. OPLE.  x x x

In the event that a certain religious sect with nationwide and even international networks of members and supporters, in order to circumvent this prohibition, decides to form its own political party in emulation of those parties I had mentioned earlier as deriving their inspiration and philosophies from well-established religious faiths, will that also not fall within this prohibition?

MR. MONSOD.  If the evidence shows that the intention is to go around the prohibition, then certainly the Comelec can pierce through the legal fiction.”

The following discussion is also pertinent:

“MR. VILLACORTA.  When the Commissioner proposed “EXCEPT RELIGIOUS GROUPS,” he is not, of course, prohibiting priests, imams or pastors who may be elected by, say, the indigenous community sector to represent their group.

REV. RIGOS.  Not at all, but I am objecting to anybody who represents the Iglesia ni Kristo, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church et cetera.”

Furthermore, the Constitution provides that “religious denominations and sects shall not be registered.” The prohibition was explained by a member of the Constitutional Commission in this wise: “[T]he prohibition is on any religious organization registering as a political party.  I do not see any prohibition here against a priest running as a candidate.  That is not prohibited here; it is the registration of a religious sect as a political party.”

And the rest is history. With a Comelec that denied accreditation to the LGBT group Ang Ladlad based on “moral grounds” by quoting passages from the Bible and the Koran, it is no surprise that it did not choose to “pierce through the legal fiction” and instead dismissed the petition to disqualify Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong. And it should also not come as a surprise if Ang Prolife can “go around the prohibition” and its application for party-list accreditation easily passes approval.

But all hope is not lost to the vanguards of secularism. While many are aware that the Supreme Court granted Ang Ladlad’s petition for Certiorari and directed the Comelec to grant its application for party-list accreditation, perhaps only few have read the jurisprudence where the decision contains many gems that can be cited as precedence in future cases involving not only the LGBT movement but the separation of Church and State itself:

  • At bottom, what our non-establishment clause calls for is “government neutrality in religious matters.” Clearly, “governmental reliance on religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.”
  • Government must act for secular purposes and in ways that have primarily secular effects.
  • The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular.
  • Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms.
  • If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom.
  • If government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens.
  • In other words, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose. That is, the government proscribes this conduct because it is “detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society” and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other.
  • Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses.
  • We cannot countenance advocates who, undoubtedly with the loftiest of intentions, situate morality on one end of an argument or another, without bothering to go through the rigors of legal reasoning and explanation. In this, the notion of morality is robbed of all value. Clearly then, the bare invocation of morality will not remove an issue from our scrutiny.

If we cannot stop religions from circumventing the separation of Church and State by filling congress with their party-list groups especially when there is little resistance from a Church-friendly Comelec, we can at least stay vigilant and expose potential and actual violations of the constitution when such groups try to impose their own brand of religious morality without having the decency of articulating their arguments in secular terms. That way we can prevent the Church from wielding political power and violating our much-cherished religious freedom.

 

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

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