For people who purport to have monopoly on morality, the sheer lack of charity and grace of conservative Catholics never ceases to amaze. After days of relentless literal demonizing and threats of physical violence from this group, both online and offline, Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino of Kabataan Partylist has withdrawn House Bill 6330, the proposed “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”
Several opinion pieces were dedicated in the past week to misrepresenting Palatino and his bill—accusing him of trying to “ban God” and questioning his motives by painting him as an atheist. Ignoring that these are completely irrational and fallacious objections, neither of these allegations is true. As Palatino himself expressed with utter confusion, how can you possibly “ban God”? His bill’s intentions were quite simple—cease government sponsorship of religion.
It is clear what this de facto state religion is. In his interview with Filipino Freethinkers, Palatino revealed that Protestants thanked him for his bill, saying that it will “level the playing field.” The conservatives who opposed Palatino’s bill were almost purely of the Catholic pursuasion, with a few token non-Catholics to puff up a false image of nondenomenational opposition to HB 6330. Protestants have very few icons apart from the Latin cross (without the bloodied human sacrifice) and some Islamic traditions are forbidden from having any images of living things altogether. And it is not only Catholic iconography that is at the heart of the matter here. It is simply a fact that some government offices underwrite Masses with public funds, in clear and incontrovertible violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
It is plain that the right of non-Catholics against coercion into sponsoring Catholic dogma is viewed by the government as unworthy of protection. Despite being completely unconstitutional, conservative Catholics are quite proud that they have total command of the Philippine government. Palatino is just another victim in a long list of casualties of Catholic bullying. It’s practically an institution in the religion. Again, conservative Catholics prove that intimidation and threats trump reason and logical argumentation. This should not surprise us as their entire belief system is based on fear and punishment.
Conservative Catholics are always quick to identify the “Almighty God” in the preamble of the Constitution with their own Yahweh. They use this as if it gave them carte blanche to propound every dogma in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They fail to realize that this god could be any god—even gods they’ll find ironically nonsensical. Secularism benefits everyone, especially the easily offended. But, since conservative Catholics purport to enjoy majority support, the Filipino people have been helpless to contest their interpretation of the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution exists to defend the rights of the minority from the mob rule of the majority. HB 6330 seeks nothing more but to concretize the spirit of the Bill of Rights’ Establishment Clause. And what other purpose could that clause have but to safeguard the rights of citizens against state sponsorship of a religion? The building of chapels on public grounds with public money and the presence of Catholic saints all over public property is undeniably unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the tyranny of the vocal conservative Catholic minority holds our society, and our legislators, hostage. This belief in the non-existent Catholic vote is the Filipino politician’s most popular superstition.
We have seen time and time again that a small band of demagogues’ interests are disproportionately represented in the government. They abuse the state and mold it to further their sectarian ends. The flagrant display of religious icons on public property is only the most visible symptom of sectarianism—there are, of course, much more systemic violations of secularism. Non-Catholics should hear this loud and clear: we do not have a government for the Filipino people, but for the Filipino Catholic. That we even needed HB 6330 only proves this.
There is still hope for those who seek religious freedom, however. As in every single culture war issue, conservatives always lose. It is only a matter of time till freedom from religious coercion will replace First Friday Mass attendance sheets. Until then, advocates of freedom of religion and freedom from religion cannot trust the government to fight for their Constitutional rights.
Report violations of the Establishment Clause to Church in State.