As a practicing Episcopalian, one might think that I would welcome a Bible quote on my money. Should I not be flattered, inspired even, that the Bangko Sentral has seen fit to elevate my religious identity to the national level by plastering it on our legal tender? Besides, its only a tiny little line on the bill itself. I myself was too busy harrumphing with everyone else at miscolored parrot feathers to even notice the quote from Psalms on the 500 peso note until someone pointed it out to me. Even one who appreciates the need for Church/State separation might feel tempted to call the issue insignificant, and that bringing any sort of serious attention to it would be a waste of time better spent on the many other more dire issues that face our country today. Why can’t we stay focused on more blatant and urgent examples of religious interference in government, such as the actions of the CBCP and its allies on the RH Bill?
The problem lies with the fact that these seemingly small things have a tendency to come roaring back, used as leverage for the big issues of the future. While attending the RH Bill congressional hearings, I’ve lost track of the number of times that Anti-RH resource speakers trotted out that line in our 1987 constitution about imploring the aid of Almighty God as definitively final proof that the Republic of the Philippines is not, in fact, a secular democracy and that therefore we ought to establish their version of God’s rules on all and sundry. The ‘In God We Trust’ line on American currency has similarly been abused by fundamentalists there who wish to keep the teaching of evolution out of schools.
Ask yourselves: do you respect the rights of others to practice their beliefs as they see fit, so long as they do not overtly impose those beliefs on you, or take your taxes to fund their practice? Do you like living in a country where you are free to think on your faith, or lack thereof, and reach your own conclusions about how to live your life and share it with others? Because that’s what a truly secular and democratic government guarantees for all its citizens. While we might be pretty far from that ideal right now, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthy goal to strive for.
Here is a relatively easy place to start. For now, by itself, this is indeed a small thing, with a simple solution: remove that line from our taxpayer-funded printed official currency. In doing so we forever remove the possibility of someone brandishing that 500 peso bill and insisting that being members of the ‘official’ religion of this country gives them the right to dictate how everyone else ought to live their lives. This is our chance to actually prevent a problem from developing, rather than reacting to its future consequences. It may not be nearly as glamorous or dramatic, but its just as important.