Here’s a question to the Catholics who so vociferously decried Representative Palatino’s now withdrawn Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act (HB 6330). Would you deny your brother and sister Catholics in Pakistan the secular government that this bill was trying to secure? Would you refuse Pakistani Catholics the government that they were promised during the founding of their country?
In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims—Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.
That was to be the promise of Pakistan, that it would be a Muslim majority country that had secular principles. Here we have a clear parallel with the Philippines: our 1987 constitution had declared ours a secular democracy albeit a Catholic dominated one.
And yet what is happening in Pakistan? What happens when the promise of secularism is treated as a sham by the religious majority? In Pakistan, Christians and Catholics are oppressed under the justification of a blasphemy law and Catholic politicians are murdered for daring to stand up to this oppression of religious freedom and human rights. And as reported by the Catholic website, Where God Weeps, during the floods in Pakistan on 2010, this climate of oppression against the religious minorities has made it so that the flood waters were diverted to the places where the religious minorities live.
In Pakistan at least, it seems that the Catholic church is keenly aware of how urgently secularism is needed to protect their flock and the other religious minorities in the country. Even the pope has spoken up to ask Pakistan to repeal their blasphemy laws.
History has shown that the practice of secularism, and not just lip service to it, is a good way of ensuring religious freedom. The actual practice of secularism makes it harder for those in power to oppress people with beliefs different from their own. That secularism in England arose from the mutual persecution between Protestants and Catholics should have taught the Roman Catholic church the value of secularism for religious freedom.
And yet what happens here in the Philippines? We have the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines misrepresenting HB 6330 as a bill that would ban god, as a bill against religious freedom when all it is a bill that reinforces the secularism demanded by our constitution. Meanwhile in Pakistan, a Catholic Bishop committed suicide in protest of blasphemy laws, in protest of the suppression of religious freedom, in protest for secularism.
One of the intentions of HB 6330 is to ensure that government offices do not represent one religion over another; to ensure that public servants won’t feel that they are beholden to a religion because of the religious displays or services in their work place and that the public they serve won’t feel that they are being discriminated against, however subtly or overtly, because of a difference in belief.
This is secularism, this is how religious freedom is preserved. By observing neutrality in government, by showing systems of belief or disbelief no favor over another.
It was mainly the loud and arrogant Catholic voice that brought about the withdrawal of HB 6330. These same Catholics are fond of citing the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”. It makes you wonder, if they knew how the lack of secularism is hurting Pakistani Catholics, would these Filipino Catholics deny secularism to their Pakistani brethren as they have denied secularism to the minority believers in the Philippines?