Tag Archive | "separation of church and state"

The Government That Prays Together Steals Together


Senate Prayer

How does one know that a politician accused of plunder is a devout Catholic? Don’t worry — they’ll tell you. One even put a Bible quote on a shirt — Bong Revilla’s had the following on his the day he surrendered:

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

This kind of religious gesture is usually shorthand for, “I’m not corrupt, I’m Catholic, for Christ’s sake!”

But a recent study concluded that if you’re a Catholic politician in a predominantly Catholic country, you’re probably corrupt. I had read several studies that confirm the correlation between religiosity and other signs of societal dysfunction.

But this most recent one, titled “A Cross-National Investigation into the Effects of Religiosity on the Pervasiveness of Corruption,” went a bit further. It argues that religion, instead of just being correlated with corruption, actually promotes it.

Secularism and Societal Health

A few weeks before Revilla’s surrender, Alex Gonzaga, a celebrity contestant of reality show Pinoy Big Brother, preached about the virtue of theism and the vice of atheism. She said that while believers solve their problems with God, nonbelievers “deteriorate,” trying to solve their sins with yet other sins.

But such statements can only come from someone who doesn’t know about Scandinavia and other secular societies. Study after study has shown that when it comes to countries, a strongly religious population is rarely a good thing. The more religious the population, the higher the incidence of, among others, poverty, crime, corruption, inequality, infant mortality, inability to access education and a decent standard of living — the list goes on. The least religious countries are better at most, if not all, of these measures.

However, correlation does not mean causation. Just because strong religiosity usually coexists with high crime rates does not mean one causes the other. When it comes to causation, I share the conclusion of the sociologists at the World Values Survey. They argue that what causes both high religiosity and low societal health is existential insecurity. When you live in a society where you can’t count on your government for survival, you’re more likely to pray to God for help or to get the help yourself — regardless of the legality of the means.

But this doesn’t quite explain why politicians — particularly those who are rich enough to own private jets — would plunder millions, especially while professing belief in a God that sees and judges everything they do.

Hamid Yeganeh & Daniel Sauers of Winona State University, USA, provide an explanation.

Corruption By Catholic Privilege

Even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic development — making sure that how developed a country was didn’t significantly influence the outcome — they concluded the following:

“Considering the variety of corruption measures, the reliability of data, and the large number of included countries, we have to conclude that religiosity not only does not impede corruption but tends to promote it… The fact that religious denominations did not have considerable effects on the level of corruption suggests that religiousness inherently increases the occurrence of corrupt business behavior.”

But isn’t religion supposed to make people more moral and less corrupt? Yeganeh and Sauers argue that “while religiosity provides guidance on morality, some of its characteristics practically promote corrupt business behavior.”

The first of these characteristics is the creation of “a hierarchical socio-cultural structure promoting the elites’ discretionary power that ultimately endorses corruption.”

Consider clerical child abuse. The abuse of children and adolescents had been happening for centuries before it was brought to public awareness. Then it was discovered that systematic cover-ups and cleric shuffling made it difficult for the proper authorities to get involved.

I emphasize “proper” because the Catholic Church claimed that abuse cases were handled by their internal courts. They thought that whether the abuses should be handled by external authorities were up to their discretion. Because they could ensure the victims’ silence with threats of excommunication, they alone could decide whether to report the crime to the police. And the decisions usually favored the priests over their victims.

Now consider the psalm on Revilla’s shirt: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This sentiment was shared by Vatican and its bishops when it decided that their authority alone was enough. What can man (the law) do to one with the Lord on his side (Catholic official)?

Thus bishops and politicians see themselves as privileged. But they wouldn’t have any power if the population didn’t actually share this perspective. Unfortunately, this is the case. The more religious a country, the more faith citizens have in both priests and politicians. These privileged people deserve more special treatment, more respect, and more trust.

On the other hand, secular societies are more skeptical of authority. They realize that there’s nothing special about priests, politicians, or any other person of authority. The more power they have, the more scrutiny and skepticism they are subjected to. Because the idea of faith is more foreign to secular societies, reason and evidence hold more currency. In the researchers words, “rationality, without too much emphasis on morality, wordlessly and effectively hinders corruption and supports ethical behavior.”

Religion: Sedation, not Solution

Another characteristic of religion that promotes corruption is the doctrine of forgiveness. In the researchers’ words, “the function of religion with regard to corruption is to provide sedation rather than a solution.”

If the allegations of plunder are true, then condemnation should be the least the people could do to ensure that justice is served. Yet CBCP President Villegas found it necessary to ask Filipinos not to condemn the alleged pork scammers.

You may think that there’s no way the public could be that stupid. Surely Filipinos would never forgive, never forget. But what kind of country would make Revilla consider running for president right after his arrest? What kind of country would elect a president impeached for corruption as Mayor of Manila? What kind of country would have so many of its people forget the atrocities of Marcos and elect his family into power?

A country that can forgive a corrupt politician seventy times seven.

The Government that Prays Together

To this day, the supposedly secular Philippine Senate starts every session with a prayer. Most, if not all, of them are implicated in either the PDAF or DAP scandal. A lot of Filipinos ask, “How can a government that is so religious be so corrupt?” If you’ve read up to this point, I hope you’ll agree that the correct question is, “How could it not?”

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Image source: kickerdaily.com
Author’s note: This article was previously titled, “The Government That Prays Together Plunders Together.” “Preys” was also suggested, but “steals” sounds better (and sounds closer to “stays”).

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Bishop Conflates Censorship with Secularism, Settles Nothing


ConflateIn an article published in CBCP for Life, Bishop Broderick Pabillo said that the “church hierarchy is entitled to speak and express its opinion on public policies that could affect the welfare of the majority.”

I don’t see anything wrong with this statement. Nor should anyone. What I don’t like is how the article says that this obvious sentiment — that the clergy can criticize the government — somehow “settles the debates pertaining to the constitutional provision on the separation of the church and state.”

What the bishop has done is conflate disallowing criticism of the government with enforcing secularism. Throughout the article, both Pabillo and the writer quoting the bishop make it seem as if secularism asks the Church to keep silent on political matters:

“The separation of the church and state does not imply that members of the clergy are not allowed to criticize the mishaps of politicians in governing the public. We are allowed to criticize them for we are citizens of this nation, too. As Filipinos, it is just right and fitting for us to point out what is wrong in our government… If we would remain silent, we are not doing our rightful duty as citizens of this nation.”

Again, no one is asking the clergy to end their criticism because it is proscribed by secularism. This is not what the public debate on secularism is about.

What secularism advocates ask for is not Church silence but government neutrality. A Church leader, like any other Filipino citizen, is free to say whatever he wants about politicians or policies, however religious or theocratic it sounds.

But if secularism is to be respected, public officials must not do the same. Their words and actions must be secularly motivated — motivations do not privilege one religion above others — or at least appear to be.

What this means is that a public official is not prevented from being motivated by religious convictions whenever they fulfill public duties. But they owe the public — which may or may not share their private convictions — secular justifications for their political actions. “Because my bishop/Bible says so” will no longer do.

This is why many conservative politicians must now resort to secular arguments — based on non-religious reasoning and supposedly scientific evidence — to further their religious agenda.

Although the motivations of these arguments are primarily religious — which is often evident in how little reason and science are actually involved — they can at least be debated legislatively, countered with other secular arguments, and tethered to consequences in the real world that all citizens can appreciate, regardless of religious affiliation.

That politicians make an honest effort to behave politically as though they had no religious bias: This is really all that secularism requires. Unfortunately, many politicians still act like sectarian Church preachers intstead of secular public servants.

This patent sectarianism is really what secularists want to correct. By making it seem like secularists are instead asking to silence the Church, Bishop Pabillo and the article writer cast not only secularists but secularism itself in a bad light.

Pabillo (and the article writer) hasn’t settled any debate on secularism. But he has started a small one in my mind: Either Pabillo doesn’t understand secularism, or he doesn’t want others to.

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Secularism: An Advocacy Against Theocracy


The advocacy for secularism is an advocacy for rights. More specifically, it is the advocacy for certain privileges and claims that are being denied due to the strong influence of the Church in our political affairs.

The Hoefeldian system classifies rights into privileges, claims, powers, and immunities. The dynamics of these four elements can be appreciated by observing how a religious country like the Philippines attempts to change its laws as it slowly breaks away from the authority of the Church.

Privileges and claims are called first-order rights: entitlements to perform/not perform certain actions, or that others perform/not perform certain actions. To have a privilege to do something means to have no duty not to do it, while to have a claim on something means that some other person or entity has a duty to satisfy that claim.

Powers and immunities, on the other hand, are second-order rights that have a bearing on first-order rights. To have power means to have the ability to alter one’s own or another’s privileges or claims, and to have  immunity means that another person or entity lacks the ability to alter one’s privileges or claims.

To illustrate, take for example the right to drink alcohol. It is a privilege-right in the sense that people aged 18 and above have no duty not to drink, but it is not a claim-right because the government has no duty to provide alcohol, let alone for free. The government, however, has the power-right to suspend the right to drink (and the right to buy and sell liquor) as what the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to do four days before and during election day, although foreigners have a limited immunity from the Comelec ban since they can drink in certain hotels and establishments with special permits.

The rights commonly advocated by secularists today are reproductive health (RH), divorce, and marriage equality. The RH law grants certain claims to qualified citizens by imposing a duty on the government to provide free contraceptives. The divorce bill seeks to grant couples of failed marriages the privilege to start a new life with a new spouse by relieving them of the duty to remain married to their old partners. Advocates of marriage equality fight for equal rights – not “special” rights – of same sex couples so they can enjoy the same legal recognition, protection, and claims that heterosexual couples often take for granted.

churchUnfortunately, these rights have yet to see the light of day as the supreme court issued a status quo ante order on the recently-passed RH law, while divorce and marriage equality still have to hurdle a tedious legislative process which at any point could stop them in their tracks. While it is the State that holds the power to grant or deny these claims and privileges, those who represent the State are also human beings and may be influenced by their religious beliefs or dictated upon by their religious leaders, adversely affecting the citizens who don’t share their persuasions. In effect, religion – actually just one particular religion – still holds considerable power over all of us whether or not we subscribe to it, the constitutional inviolability of Church-State separation notwithstanding.

And so the advocacy for secularism is an advocacy against theocracy.  It is a struggle against the undue influence of religion in public affairs, a drive to remind our public servants that they answer to the people and not to some church hierarchy. The call for secularism is a call to our fellow citizens to wield their power to choose the life they want to live, to think and act free from fear of excommunication and hell fire while remaining grounded on reason and evidence, and to strive to increase happiness and lessen needless suffering in this world. Ultimately, the advocacy for secularism is an advocacy for immunity from religion, and the advancement of the rights of the rational individual.

If you share this advocacy, please join Filipino Freethinkers as we fight for a true separation of Church and State in the Philippines.

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Image credit: Garrick Bercero

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Marriage Equality and the Unequal Society


Marriage Equality vs Unequal SocietyBrace yourselves. Marriage Equality is coming. It’s been happening all over the world recently, and it’s only a matter of time that it happens here.

But as with many developments in science and social justice, the conservative Catholic Church and its Pro Life cohorts will do everything to stop it. They’ll be particularly more antsy with the recent loss in the RH battle and a potential loss on divorce also looming.

They’ll explain how marriage equality — we don’t call it same-sex marriage anymore* — is an attack on the traditional marriage, the sanctity of the family, Filipino culture, and human existence itself. They’ll bring out their usual non-sequiturs and one-sided statistics.

And although this especially applies to their flock, the Church will fight so that it applies to everyone else. They have every right to do so, but it shouldn’t matter in a secular democracy. Yet just like “equality,” “secular” and “democracy” are words the Catholic Church has always been allergic to.

They made this very clear a century ago when France first introduced secularism. In response to the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State, Pope Pius X promulgated Vehementer Nos, an encyclical that called secularism “a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error.”

Although it was particularly aimed at secularism, it illuminated the Church’s stance on other issues, showing just why equality, secularism, and democracy are foreign ideas to this foreign institution:

The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of per sons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful.

So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

The encyclical goes on to explain why secularism has been, is, and always will be denounced by the Roman Catholic Church.** For now, understand that in the same way that the Church fought against secularism until it became the obvious choice to almost everyone, they will do the same against marriage equality. They’ll rehash the same tired arguments they’ve been using to block the measure here and all over the world.

But ultimately, behind the flawed arguments and supposed “science,” what it all boils down to is this: the Church does not think marriage equality is a good idea, so everyone else will just have to obey them. Because in their unequal society, our one duty is to allow ourselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

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* What LGBT couples are asking for is not a special kind of marriage that merits its own moniker (same-sex marriage). All they’re saying is that the right to marry should apply equally to everyone.

** Fans of Vatican II will undoubtedly bring up Dignitatis Humanae, which supposedly corrects the Church’s stand on religious freedom. But one of the last things Pope Benedict XVI did was explain how this wasn’t really the case. But that’s a story for another article.

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It’s Not the Size That Matters: How the Team Patay Tarps Circumvent Comelec Regulations


Two weeks ago, on March 19, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the Team Patay tarpaulins. Dean Ralph Sarmiento of La Salle Bacolod, counsel for Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, defended the bishop by invoking his rights to religious freedom and free speech, especially as a private citizen who does not belong to a political party.

In response, Chief Justice Sereno said that election laws apply to all, even to a diocese. Sereno said: “In the Bible, it is said that you have to render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s. If there is government regulation on taxes, even if God owns the whole world, you have to pay taxes.” She added that all materials “that tend to influence the electorate” should be regulated.

Justice Antonio Carpio shared Sereno’s opinion. He said that the penalties for violating campaign restrictions also apply to private individuals.

Section 95

These statements are promising. Yet I’m disappointed that they didn’t mention section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines. Also called Batas Pambansa Bilang 881, the Omnibus Election Code is the oldest law reference used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec); it’s been enforced since 1985. Which is why I’m surprised that both the Comelec and the Supreme Court missed such a crucial part of it, at least as it relates to the Team Patay tarps.

The crucial section of the Omnibus Election Code can be found in “Article XI. Electoral Contributions and Expenditures.” According to Section 95, “no contribution for purposes of partisan political activity shall be made directly or indirectly by… natural and juridical persons who have been granted… incentives, exemptions, allocations or similar privileges or concessions by the government.”

According to section 94, contributions include, “anything of value… made for the purpose of influencing the results of the elections… [including] the use of facilities voluntarily donated by other persons.”

Because the diocese of Bacolod is a religious organization, it receives exemptions on paying property taxes. Because they were granted this incentive by the government, they are forbidden from making contributions for political purposes. The Team Patay tarp, perhaps even the façade on which it is posted, clearly fall under the contributions defined in section 94.

Section 95 concludes by saying that it’s “unlawful for any person to solicit or receive any contribution from any of the persons or entities enumerated herein.” Which means that if the diocese is found guilty, the politicians listed under Team Buhay can be held liable as well.

Circumventing Comelec

During the hearing, Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro agreed with Sarmiento that private individuals must not be punished for expressing their political views. She said that the government must show how private citizens could circumvent election regulations, particularly the limits on campaign spending.

In the case of the diocese of Bacolod, it’s quite easy to think of a hypothetical example. Consider Politician X. He has already reached his limit for campaign spending. But he still has money to spend. He decides to make a big donation to his local Church. He tells the local Bishop that he hopes the donation will help the church, and that he prays to God that he can win in the next election.

The local Bishop uses some of the money to create billboards on several parish churches, expressing how pro-life Politician X is. Of course, no one can prove that the politician’s donation went to paying for the billboards; churches, unlike other charitable organizations, aren’t required to report where donations go to. Politician X has thus circumvented election regulations.

The Team Buhay tarpaulins currently include senatorial candidates Mitos Magsaysay, Cynthia Villar, Gringo Honasan, Koko Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes, and JV Estrada. We don’t know how much these politicians have donated to the diocese of Bacolod – or to any church for that matter. We also don’t know whether these donations played a part in their inclusion in Team Buhay, or where the money used for the tarps actually came from. But the possibility that some campaign restrictions are being circumvented is there. This is one of the potential violations that can be prevented if Comelec enforced section 95 – provided the Supreme Court lets them.

But first, both institutions have to forget the poster size restriction issue. Because as far as section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code is concerned, the diocese of Bacolod shouldn’t be posting campaign materials in the first place. At least in this case, it’s not the size that matters.

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A Jesuit’s Doublespeak on the RH Law


Despite sounding like a very progressive Catholic, Ateneo de Davao University president Joel Tabora, S.J. has never really stated, at least not publicly, whether he agrees with the underlying logic of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

When asked on Twitter by Filipino Freethinkers president Red Tani if he believes that using artificial contraception is inherently evil (as defined by the Roman Catholic Church in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae), Tabora replied:

“Based on the level of natural law that is presupposed in those encyclicals, yes. But I do not think an abstract category such as “inherently evil” is fruitful in understanding the demands of Christian ethics today.”

Notice that the first sentence is as qualified as it gets, and the second sentence removes whatever illusion of significance the first sentence has to Red’s question on Tabora’s stand on contraception. And if that wasn’t enough, Tabora further said:

“To illustrate: is it “inherently” evil to separate the conjugal act from both its unitive and procreative meanings? Do not get me wrong. The notion of natural law and its use as a foundation for moral teaching has developed. It is “complicated.” Doctrines develop. There was a time when the Church tolerated slavery and persecuted heretics.”

It seems that Tabora is being deliberately ambiguous or evasive by implicitly undermining the encyclicals without expressly going against the Church’s teachings. But does his doublespeak mean dishonesty? Let the reader be the judge, keeping in mind that the university president’s job description is unlikely to include the right to publicly deny the Catholic position.

But while his statements on RH are so carefully crafted, look how freely he speaks of things he truly believes in:

“I certainly believe there are grave sins. That’s why there is the Cross. And Resurrection.”

This time he didn’t mention the Church, let alone the encyclicals. He categorically stated his belief in Christ – something he did not do on the issue of RH and contraception and whether he agrees with the Vatican’s teachings.

It has been Fr. Tabora’s thesis that there is nothing in the RH law “which prevents a good Catholic from being a good Catholic.” He also said that

Image credit: Ateneo de Davao website

“If the “Catholic Church” is truly convinced of its position, convince first the Catholics of it, then propose law based on their collective witness. Running to legislation to do the job of proclamation and religious education will not convince Catholics who are not convinced.”

In those two sentences Fr. Tabora summed up everything secularism stands for. It doesn’t matter if he never clearly stated his support for reproductive health, because he left a reminder that the legislature ought not to aid any religion. And as far as the advocacy for the separation of Church and State is concerned, this Jesuit educator is as secular as Catholic priests ever get.

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Author’s Note: I realize that the title of the article should have been “A Jesuit’s Apparent Doublespeak on the RH Law” and that a certain part should have been “…his apparent doublespeak…” to better reflect my own thoughts and interpretations. In the name of journalistic integrity however, the title and the article will remain as such albeit this note.

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The Progressive Church That Will Never Come


Imagine this hypothetical situation:

The progressive Catholics have split from the Vatican to form their own church. They’ve called it the New Catholic Church.

A handful of progressive bishops have taken the place of the Pope as its leaders, and none of them call themselves infallible. Completing the clergy are progressive priests and theologians, mostly Jesuits, who feel exhilarated by the freedom to openly air their opinions without fear of being censured, excommunicated, or fired.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the New Catholic bishops are in constant dialogue with their priests. Theologians thrive as their expertise is sought sincerely. Best of all, the laity are also given a voice. They’re invited to pastoral committee hearings on relevant social issues such as contraception, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and freedom of conscience. It seems like for the first time in centuries, progress is possible.

Progressive Church

Because most Roman Catholics were progressive, the New Catholic Church now outnumbers the Roman Catholic one significantly. And because the Roman Catholic Church is no longer the predominant religion, few politicians pander to them. The drop in donations has forced them to start using their billions in investment, which they have also been using to settle clerical abuse cases. More families are pressing charges with the New Catholic Church urging and supporting them to speak out.

Meanwhile, the New Catholic Church, being the biggest religion, has a steady flow of donations that has allowed them to build simple churches, unlike the luxurious Roman Catholic ones. Most of their funds are spent on charity instead of partisan political campaigns and causes. And none of it is used to settle abuse cases out of court; they report the rare offender to the police and fully cooperate with the authorities so that justice is ensured.

Having learned from the dangers political meddling, the New Catholic Church focuses on the well-being of its flock, avoiding partisan politics and fully respecting the separation of church and state. This has allowed legislation to proceed more smoothly, with the blackmail and fear mongering of the Roman Catholic Church falling on the ears of few conservative politicians.

New Catholics are thriving in their new religion, where they agree with the moral position of their priests and bishops, never again having to withhold tithes or walk out of sermons. Their personal views no longer conflict with their Church’s teachings, and educating the youth is now a cooperative effort between parents, teachers, and priests, each lesson based on scientific evidence and humanistic ethics.

Now. In this hypothetical future, if you are a progressive Catholic who still belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, would you join the New Catholic Church? Remember that the progressive priests and theologians who have made your religion bearable have already left to join this new one. Most of your progressive friends and relatives have also converted.

Would you remain a Roman Catholic when your views on so many social issues are at odds with the clergy? Would you tithe and pay for sacraments in a conservative church when you could so easily get the same experience in its progressive counterpart? What good reasons are there to remain Roman Catholic?

Hans Kung, one of the most prominent Catholic theologians today, has long urged progressive Catholics to revolt, but to no avail.

Stalemate

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most progressive Catholics would convert to this New Catholicism in a heartbeat. I believe that this is the ideal situation every progressive Catholic hopes would happen inside the Roman Catholic Church. The only problem is, this is not going to happen.

The conservatives in the Vatican are in full control, and because they’re a dictatorship, the opinions of the majority don’t matter. The only way progressive Catholics can get their ideal situation is by forming their own institution outside the Roman Catholic Church.

And this is precisely the problem. To make the New Catholic Church possible, they have to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Every person has to leave on their own. And someone has to start it. But who would begin such an exodus?

The youth would probably be the most willing. But their youth might be a turnoff to those who are so used to getting guidance from more mature men.

The older progressives are more authoritative, but they’re probably too settled into their Roman Catholic routine, with careers and families taking up most of their time, that taking on such a big change would be too much to ask. Not to mention they still wouldn’t be authoritative enough for those who look for a sense of the sacred in their leaders.

Progressive priests and theologians would have this holy authority. But compared to the laity, they would be risking their careers, their livelihoods. They would need to rely on their savings because while starting a new religion they wouldn’t have a source of income.

Bishops probably have enough saved up. But the way the Vatican has been screening bishops since Vatican II, finding even one progressive bishop is a challenge in itself, and such a person would be risking the most in terms of the wealth and influence he would have to give up.

That leaves no one.

Conservative Church

I believe that every individual needed for this New Catholic Church is already here. Majority of Roman Catholics who now have more progressive views than their conservative counterparts and clergy. A group of dissenting priests and theologians who have been expressing their progressive ideals more and more publicly. Enough ideological and theological conflict in many core beliefs to make forming a new religion necessary. And enough shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church to make leaving it, ceasing to further support its bigotry, an ethical necessity.

But progressive Catholics have to start somewhere. Each of them would join this New Catholic Church if it is ever formed. But few, if any, of them would be willing to leave the Roman Catholic Church to start it.

Progressive Catholics will be content to bear their burden together, comforting each other with their shared dissent, hoping for change but knowing in their hearts that it will never come. Meanwhile, the Vatican thrives with power, arrogance, and impunity, never having to worry about the progressive church that will never come.

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A Rebuttal to the Defense of CBCP’s Stand on the RH Bill


In what seemed like an effort to show an appreciation of the separation of Church and State and to give an answer to Fr. Joaquin Bernas’s explanation that “public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” Antipolo Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes defended the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the RH bill by saying that their opposition to contraceptives, which the RH bill seeks to fund and promote, is not based on faith or revelation, but on “natural law.”

In a statement, Reyes asserted that:

“By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good.”

But what exactly is this “natural law” the bishops keep bandying about? Is it the physical laws of the universe that are observable in nature?

The term “natural law” is actually a misnomer, quickly misleading those hearing it for the first time. An entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that:

Thomas Aquinas
Image Credit: Wikipedia

“If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is [Thomas] Aquinas’s [the 13th century Dominican priest and theologian]. Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.”

Aquinas held that natural law is given by God. This premise alone already makes such law supernatural. And by insisting that not only Catholics but all human beings are subject to this law, Bishop Reyes is overstepping the bounds of religious authority and disrespecting those who do not share his belief in God.

Aquinas also held that procreation is a good that we ought to pursue and that we know this immediately, by inclination. While this may have a ring of truth and even a Darwinian explanation, in no way is procreation an absolute good. A statement released by the De La Salle University faculty in support of the RH bill says it best:

“[B]eyond protecting the very important right of the unborn, [the meaning of the right to life] must extend to a recognition that a life that is weighed down by poverty, sickness, and social inequality—now compounded by environmental stresses—deprives humans of agency to transform themselves and the world for the common good.”

What good would uncontrolled procreation do when our children are left to the streets, begging for food and exposing themselves to diseases and sexual predators? To declare procreation as an absolute good (and contraception as intrinsically evil) is to invoke dogma. So while Bishop Reyes may claim that the CBCP’s opposition to contraception and the RH bill is not based on faith or revelation but on natural law, it is clear that their arguments are ultimately religious in nature.

Fortunately, the constitutional separation of Church and State makes sure that Aquinas’s law or any religious law for that matter is not forced on our citizens. Philippine jurisprudence states that:

“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.”

The CBCP’s objection against the RH bill is noted, and the bishops’ right to free speech is respected. Let us just hope that our lawmakers are keen enough to discern between secular and religious arguments, and that they do not forget to respect our Constitution, especially the clause that declares that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

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“Your Mother Should Have Used RH,” Says BUHAY Spokesperson


I recorded this video interview with Frank when I got home from COMELEC before writing this post. Some details might be inaccurate, which I hope this post corrects. Toward the end of the video is footage of the BUHAY spokesperson saying the titular statement.

“Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010. I’m of course referring to members of Prolife Philippines wishing out loud that we hadn’t been born as we were leaving Manila Cathedral. We were there to listen to a discernment mass on the RH Bill, but weren’t allowed to attend because of the DAMASO shirts we were wearing. Aside from wishing we weren’t alive, a public exorcism on us was also attempted by Eric Manalang, president of Prolife Philippines.

Now it’s 2012, and the Prolife greeting has been updated. It now goes, “Your mother should have used RH.” We learned this yesterday when we expressed our opposition to BUHAY’s party-list accreditation at their COMELEC review hearing. After witnessing the most absurd justification for applying to be a party-list, we had an exchange of words with BUHAY that reflects a lot of what happened in the Manila Cathedral incident of 2010.

It began with a question. The BUHAY spokesperson who had represented them during the hearing approached us and asked, “Are you pro-RH?” “Yes,” answers Kenneth Keng, who had earlier expressed at the hearing our intention to oppose BUHAY’s accreditation. “Then your mother should have used RH. So you wouldn’t be here today.”

At this point, I was approached by another BUHAY member. “Did you go to school?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Then why aren’t you using your education,” he said. He probably meant that my pro-RH position betrayed a lack of education.

I was about to explain how education actually leads to being pro-RH when I saw Ken being approached by several BUHAY members. They were trying to grab his camera away from him. I walked over and learned what was happening. The BUHAY spokesperson complained that Ken had started recording without his permission.

They had also asked whether Ken was with the media. Ken had initially said yes out of fear and confusion; their demeanor had given him the impression that they might harm him. He later clarified that he wasn’t with the media and was just a regular blogger, something that I’d clarified earlier with the BUHAY member I’d been speaking to.

At this point we were all huddled between the elevators and the COMELEC reception, where several security personnel were watching. The BUHAY member I’d been speaking to, the one who asked whether I was educated, started talking. He said that if we weren’t with the media, he doesn’t have to treat us that way, and can just treat us like kanto boys. He repeated this, removing his coat as if preparing for a fight. He told us that he would meet us at our levels as kanto boys and invited us outside.

I clarified: “Just to be clear, are you inviting us to a fist fight outside?” He replied, “Anywhere.” I was actually surprised that he was behaving like this in front of COMELEC security. When they finally got on the elevator, we decided it was probably wise that we stayed. Some members of the COMELEC security thought so, too. They advised us to stay for a bit because the BUHAY members might be waiting for us downstairs with less than good intentions.

Surely enough, they were waiting. As I was exiting the building, the BUHAY spokesperson blocked my path, holding a cameraphone to my face. “Excuse me, I need to get out,” I said. He stands aside after a few moments, keeping the cameraphone on me. He asked me for my name and organization, and I give it to him. At this point, Ken also has his cameraphone out, and we were recording each other (another member had a proper camcorder, too).

With all the cameras turned on I wished that Ken’s was on when the BUHAY spokesperson wished Ken’s mother had used RH. Luckily, he repeated his wish, and we got it on video. At first he said that he didn’t mean anything bad when he said this. After all, he says, isn’t RH a good thing? To this we agree, and I further explain that my parents used RH: after all, it includes family planning, birth spacing, etc.

Then he says that my parents used failed RH, because after all, I am here. By doing so he betrays the malice in his wish. To him failed RH means we are born, and successful RH means we aren’t, and it’s pretty clear which of the two outcomes he’d been wishing for us.

We explain that RH isn’t abortion, which is what he keeps on implying, but he disagrees. He advises us to read the Cairo conference. I explain that the RH Bill and the Cairo Conference are two different things. At this point Atty. Macalintal, who had been mostly quiet this time, left in a car with the BUHAY member who had challenged us to a fist fight.

We also headed for our car, leaving the BUHAY spokesperson alone, waiting for his. As we were leaving, I saw the Manila Cathedral and thought about how similar the event from 2010 was: the wishing we hadn’t been born, the prolifer’s fear of being caught on video, the trying to forcefully take our cameras. I sort of expected the BUHAY spokesperson to shout “Your mothers should have aborted you!” as we were leaving. But then I corrected myself: “Your mothers should have used RH.” Because “Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010.

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The Unborn Representatives: How BUHAY Makes a Mockery of the Party-List System


Note: Please also read how BUHAY responded to our opposition of their party-list accreditation in COMELEC.

The party-list system of representation is broken. Want proof? Consider the case of BUHAY party-list.

According to COMELEC, you have to be a member of the sector you claim to represent. BUHAY claims to represent “the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.” Never mind being sick and disabled and incapable of self-protection (all at the same time!). Is even a single BUHAY representative unborn?

Even if we grant for rhetorical purposes that every BUHAY representative is unborn, they would still be disqualified for one simple reason: the unborn is not a sector recognized by COMELEC. This fact was repeated several times at BUHAY’s accreditation hearing at COMELEC yesterday.

And every time the COMELEC official mentioned this, the BUHAY spokesperson would answer the same way: BUHAY representatives actually represent its own political party, which is the one marginalized and underrepresented.

Setting aside how self-serving this reasoning is, does BUHAY actually think that a political party should be considered a sector of society? Let’s humor them a little and pretend that it is. Why is BUHAY party marginalized?

According to their spokesperson, it’s because aside from their party-list seats, they haven’t won any major political positions (senator, president, etc.) in the past elections, so they aren’t a major political party. And according to BUHAY, that means they are marginalized. Poor BUHAY. Since 2004, they’ve only won 7 seats in the House of Representatives.

That’s right. Seven seats in almost as many years have been allotted to the unborn representatives of BUHAY party, each representing the unborn citizens of the Philippines, and of course, that other marginalized and underrepresented sector, the BUHAY party itself. If that can’t convince you that the party-list system is a joke, I don’t know what can.

But there’s hope. COMELEC has been reviewing the current party-list candidates, and from the way they’ve been conducting these accreditation hearings — I’ve witnessed a few — they seem to mean business. I just hope it translates to disqualification, especially in the case of BUHAY and Ang Prolife — another conservative Catholic religious group trying to disguise itself as a political organization.

When we opposed Ang Prolife’s application, I thought nothing could ever beat the absurdity of their claiming to represent OFWs and “the structure of the Filipino family.” Well played, BUHAY party. Well played.

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Note: This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive opposition to BUHAY’s application. We’ll leave that to our formal opposition, which we were given 3 days to file, and will post as soon as it’s available. For now, check out Kontradaya’s reasons for objecting to the accreditation of BUHAY (follow the link for other party-list groups they argue should also be disqualified):

Buhay claims to represent the following sectors: the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.

However, none of its present representatives in Congress, and nominees for 2013 elections belong to these sectors.

First representative Mariano Velarde, Jr., the son of El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde, has a personal net worth of P53.326 million for 2011. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.

So is second representative Irwin Tieng, whose net worth amounts to P20.054 and whose family owns Solar Sports. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.

Second nominee for the 2013 elections is Jose L. Atienza, more famously known as Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. Mayor Atienza served as Manila Mayor from 1998 to 2007. Previous to that, he served as Manila Vice Mayor from 1992 to 1998. He also held other high positions in government, being appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo as the Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Clearly Mayor Atienza can compete for a position in Congress through regular elections. This is in addition to the fact that he does not belong to any of the sectors that Buhay claims to represent, and neither is he marginalized and underrepresented.

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This Government is Brought to You by Catholicism


“Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.” — John Milton

How much would it cost to advertise in government? The question is rhetorical, of course, because such a thing is not allowed, but just imagine for a moment that it were. What publicity a brand could gain from a single event!

Supreme Commercial

Just recently, most major TV and radio stations covered the Corona trial. Live feeds were streamed online, and commentary was all over Facebook and Twitter. Imagine the Senate walls filled with posters of anti-aging and skin-whitening products. Imagine Coke cans or Gatorade bottles on top of every senator-judge’s table. Imagine them wearing race car driver uniforms displaying the logos of their sponsors. Or the prosecution and defense wearing jerseys endorsing competing products. Court-side announcers saying things like, “Senator Sotto’s speech was brought to you by Eat Bulaga,” or, “Senator Bong Revilla’s decision was brought to you by Panday–only in theaters.”

This is absurd in many ways, but I want to focus on the most important one: These public spaces belong to every Filipino, these public servants work for every Filipino, and as national representatives, they represent every Filipino. Senator Enrile endorsing Ray-Ban sunglasses doesn’t mean he alone endorses it. It means 1/24 of the Philippines endorses Ray-Ban. And what does a Coke can on top of every table represent? It means the Philippines endorses Coke.

What about the citizens who prefer Pepsi? Or Dr. Pepper? Or those who don’t care for carbonated drinks at all? Too bad for them. And too bad for the companies who sell those marginalized products. With their competition getting such prime advertising, they’d more likely be outsold in the market.

All they could do is ask for this unfair practice of government advertising to end. And who would they ask? The same representatives who are already endorsing the products of — and receiving money from — the dominant companies.

This is obviously wrong. For companies to compete fairly, and for consumers to get the most of a fair market, the government has to stay out of it. It’s unfair to make laws in favor of one company — or against another — but so is mere advertising that shows preference for one over the other. Such is the power of advertising, and companies would pay millions — if they could — to get public servants to publicize their product.

The government doesn’t have to make laws that promote a product to give a company an unfair advantage over its competition. Just endorsing products, however indirectly, would do the job. Pretty simple, right?

I found Jesus — in COMELEC

So why is this concept lost on so many when it is applied to religions? How is it fair for statues of Jesus and Mary to be displayed instead of statues of Shiva, Vishnu, or any of the millions of Hindu gods? What makes it fair for Christian prayers to be said and Christian ceremonies to be performed instead of Wiccan chants and Pagan rituals? What makes commercial advertising different from religious advertising?

Religion is a business, and every church is competing for the business of believers. When there is no competition for business, a monopoly exists. Such a religious monopoly is called a theocracy, and the last time the Catholic Church had it they used a viral marketing strategy called the “Inquisition & Crusades.” It was a killer campaign.

The Catholic Church threatened, tortured, and murdered those who wouldn’t buy their products. They destroyed fakes by burning books–and their authors. (It’s interesting to note that the Bible was one of those books.) And they waged wars against companies who threatened to bring their exports into their monopolized market.

It wasn’t just bad for the competition. The customers, aside from being under constant surveillance and afraid for their lives, didn’t have any say about the product they were forced to buy. They couldn’t complain. The customer was always wrong.

Those who had no problem with the product (Catholicism) couldn’t be called informed buyers because they often had nothing else to choose from. And even if they did, it was forbidden to choose. Those who did were branded heretics (from the Greek hairetikos meaning able to choose) and were given a preview of the Hell they were condemned to.

Today, the Catholic Church can no longer use such methods to maintain their monopoly. But lucky for them, they don’t have to. For centuries, all that threatening, torturing, and killing to sell their products gained momentum.

Even without so much Church intervention, parents, teachers, and other authority figures perpetuated the hard selling to their children, and their children would sell to their children’s children, and so on, generation after generation. We call that shared upbringing culture, and we call that momentum tradition.

When Rep. Mong Palatino proposed a bill promoting religious freedom in government offices, all he did was ban religious advertising to ensure that religious businesses competed on a level playing field. When religions compete on a level playing field and citizens are truly free to choose which religious products to purchase (or not) — this free market condition is called secularism.

Critics cried that he was attacking Filipino culture and tradition, severing a link to some glorious past worth perpetuating. But I don’t think they want to go back to those good old days of religious monopoly. There’s a reason it’s called the Dark Ages.

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Thanks to Jeiel for the CJ trial image.

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Lessons Learned from the Proposed Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act


Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino has withdrawn House Bill 6330 otherwise known as the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, which seeks to ban religious images and ceremonies in government offices, “in response to the appeal and clamor of some of our members, constituents and supporters, various groups, institutions and the general public to reconsider the filing of such measure.”

While this is definitely sad news for the advocates of secularism, the fact that one legislator actually had the guts to file a bill like this in a country where the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable influence in politics is already an achievement in itself.

As Palatino said in a statement, “We are encouraged by the fact that despite the misunderstandings, the bill initiated relevant discussions on freedom of religion as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

Religious freedom is a tricky issue because it is comprised of two principles incorporated in a single provision of the Philippine Constitution: Non-establishment and Free Exercise. In Art. III Section 5, the two sides of religious freedom are laid out as follows:

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The first part is the establishment (also called the non-establishment) clause. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean beyond that of congress making laws that establish a state religion. In Ladlad v. Comelec, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that “it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad.” Here there was no law made to establish a state religion and it was not even congress that was involved, but Comelec. With this jurisprudence (and possibly others), the (non)establishment clause was interpreted to encompass other government actions and not just those having to do with legislation.

As for the free exercise clause, the rest of Art. III Section 5 states: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani A. Cruz wrote in Constitutional Law:

The right to religious profession and worship has a two-fold aspect, viz., freedom to believe and freedom to act on one’s beliefs.  The first is absolute as long as the belief is confined within the realm of thought. The second is subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare.

On the freedom to act on one’s beliefs, Cruz added:

As long as it can be shown that the exercise of the right does not impair the public welfare, the attempt of the State to regulate or prohibit such right would be an unconstitutional encroachment.

After reading the full text of the now dead House Bill 6330, I believe it needed some revisions because it seemed incomplete – and yes, unconstitutional. The entire bill was only four pages long including the two-page explanatory note, and the meat of the bill can be found in Section 4 where the heads of government offices, departments, and bureaus are empowered to ensure that:

(a) Religious ceremonies shall not be undertaken within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

(b) Religious symbols shall not be displayed within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

Section 4(a) does not need any revision because it does not seek to ban personal prayers but only religious ceremonies within the premises and perimeter of and publicly-owned spaces within government offices, departments, and bureaus – and not on public parks and streets since religious activities are not prohibited in these places. In Ignacio v. Ela, the Supreme Court ruled that:

Public squares, roads, highways and buildings are devoted to public use, and, as such, are open to all, without distinction. Incidentally to such use, religious acts may be performed in said public property… So long as the use of public property for religious purposes is incidental and temporary, and such as to be reasonably compatible with the use to which other members of the community are similarly entitled, or may be authorized to make, the injunction in section 23 (3) of Article VI of the Constitution is not infringed.

But as for Section 4(b) of Palatino’s bill, I think it should have been worded to disallow only large religious symbols from being prominently displayed in the halls, corridors, and yards of government buildings, and to allow government employees to place small religious icons on their own desks and cubicle walls – and especially to wear crosses around their necks.

Without clarifying the scope of the ban on religious symbols, the bill would be unconstitutional because it violates the freedom to exercise and profess one’s religious beliefs in ways that don’t impair the public welfare.

While I fully support Palatino’s intention of giving more teeth to the establishment clause, a religious freedom bill simply cannot violate the free exercise clause or any part of the Constitution for that matter. The fatal defect of House Bill 6330 gave our theocratic opponents a legitimate excuse to suppress it and prevented our country from reaching a significant legislative milestone towards a more secular government.

But as freethinkers, we get to learn from our mistakes as well as those of others with whom we share advocacies. And since the issue of religious freedom and especially the non-establishment of religion have now been brought to public debate, the proposed Freedom of Religion in Government Offices Act did not live and die in vain.

While we can wait for another legislator to file a similar bill in the near future, for the meantime we can also hope for a jurisprudence that would declare religious ceremonies and large symbols in government offices unconstitutional if we take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

The death of a single bill in no way spells the death of secularism itself.

So let us continue the fight.

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Image by: Jong Atmosfera

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A Firestorm from Tyrants: Why Rep. Palatino’s Bill Doesn’t Threaten Religious Freedom


I found Jesus — in COMELEC

When I read Cito Beltran’s Philippine Star column criticizing Rep. Mong Palatino’s recent bill, “The Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” I didn’t want to dignify it with a response.

But a recent editorial published in The Freeman is giving me second thoughts. Maybe Beltran’s way of thinking is less anomalous than I’d initially thought among the writers of the Philippine Star (The Freeman is published in Cebu by the Philippine Star.)

In a single column, gross misunderstanding of secularism is forgivable, but in an editorial it cannot be ignored. It says that the entire editorial staff of the Freeman — and to some degree the Philippine Star, who published the piece on their website — doesn’t appreciate the constitutionally enshrined separation of church and state.

Since the opinion of Beltran is similar enough to that of the Freeman editorial, I believe refuting the latter is enough to refute both, as well as the many comments online that are based on the same flawed premises. I’ll comment on the editorial in full to avoid any misrepresentation. (Editorial text is italicized and underlined.)

***

There is a proposal — House Bill 6330 — now pending in Congress that seeks to prohibit the conduct of religious ceremonies and the display of religious symbols in public places and in government offices and buildings.

This is probably the only sound statement in the entire editorial.

The proposal, entitled “The Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” may sound innocuous enough. But in reality, it is an assault on the Roman Catholic faith…

I find it interesting that secularism is often seen as an assault on Catholicism. Because one of the first religions to benefit from secularism is Catholicism. Catholics escaped from religious persecution in Europe to America where secularism protected them from it.

This allowed Catholicism not only to survive but to thrive. It seems that many Catholics don’t know this, or are simply forgetting the fact now that Catholicism is the dominant religion.

They’re also ignorant of the plight of their fellow Catholics who are still begging for secularism in the parts of the world where they’re still being persecuted.

…which is the only religion known to practice the acts sought to be banned by the bill

Freeman thinks that this fact shows the discriminatory nature of the bill. But it’s precisely this fact that makes the bill’s necessity so blatantly obvious. Their criticism of the bill would be marginally more valid if different symbols and ceremonies from other religions were allowed equal time and space.

The fact that Catholicism is the only religion out of hundreds — even thousands if you count each denomination — exclusively in violation makes the inequity more obvious.

Actually, the bill violates constitutional guarantees against the passage of laws that curtail religious freedoms.

Secularism and religious freedom are two sides of the same coin–you can’t have one without having the other. Religious freedom is not absolute. When it comes to public space — which ideally belongs to each citizen equally — a citizen can’t practice their religion if it means that another is prevented from doing so. One religion that occupies public space with a display or a ceremony prevents all other religions from doing so.

Unless each religion is given equal use of the public space — which is impractical, if not impossible — the public space is best used secularly. Public space can even be called secular space without doing damage to the secularism and religious freedom mandated by our Constitution.

Nevertheless, there is a need to send a message to the bill’s author, Kabataan partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, to stop his nonsense.

It’s quite common to dismiss Rep. Palatino’s arguments as nonsense or call him a loon or an atheist or an attention-whore. Name-calling, ad hominem, and other irrelevant arguments are used by critics to distract from the real issues, trying to project a confidence in their assertions which actually betrays a lack of it.

The bill attempts to use the bigoted argument that not everyone is Catholic and therefore any Catholic symbols should be removed from places where there are non-Catholics.

I knew the straw man would pop up sooner or later. The bill refers to public places–not all places.

What the bill’s author overlooks is that the acts he wants banned are there not by law but by common consent.

I don’t think public servants ever signed a contract that says they are OK with Catholic symbols and ceremonies. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be enough because public spaces do not belong to public servants–they belong to every Filipino citizen. I’m not aware of any recent referendum that resulted in “common consent.”

There being no decree on record mandating religious ceremonies or displays, it follows that no law should also be passed to curtail them.

There are no decrees on record mandating murder, theft, rape, graft and corruption, child trafficking, sexual abuse, or any criminal act. Therefore…

These things happen as a matter of fact and it is the fault of no one that the Philippines simply happens to be predominantly Catholic.

Everything that happens does so as a matter of fact. It is the fault of no one — no single person — that the Philippines is poor or that children still die of hunger. Each individual is at fault for his fellow human beings to some degree, and for better or worse, we are responsible for the society we live in. Yes, these things happen as a matter of fact, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do anything to change it.

Palatino forgets that non-Catholics are not being forced to participate in Catholic ceremonies or pay obeisance to Catholic icons.

In at least one case that we know of, they are. Also, you don’t need to force someone to remove their right to choose. Sure, non-Catholics (and even Catholic for that matter) don’t have to participate or pay obeisance, but many of them would rather not have to make the choice (“Should I pray with them or just wait for five minutes?) or would prefer to choose otherwise (“I’d rather use this time praying talking to my boss about something really urgent.”)

Truth is, until Palatino came up with his bright idea, things in this country have stayed unruffled by religious tensions born of such nonsense.

Again with the sarcasm and insults. Anyway, the lack of religious wars or religious terrorism doesn’t mean religious tensions don’t exist. Most acts of discrimination — racism, sexism, bigotry — are subtle and nonphysical, but it does not mean they don’t count as violence. On the contrary, these tend to be more pernicious, and often serve as seeds for the physical violence that could follow.

As a partylist representative, Palatino gained access to Congress through the “backdoor” so to speak, on the strength of nothing more than two percent of the vote. That is hardly mandate enough to tackle an issue that affects 80 percent of the country, more than he can chew really.

More irrelevant insults. Not only on Rep. Palatino, but on the partylist system itself. Also, it’s another fallacy: the appeal to popularity.

A final word to Palatino — if it aint broke, don’t fix it. These matters took root long before even his great great grandfather was born. He can’t just barge in as if he owns the place, or is he prepared to face a firestorm if he insists.

It’s somehow appropriate that they ended with yet another fallacy: the appeal to tradition. Many of the things we now accept as evil took root long before the great great grandfathers of those who fought against those evils — slavery, sexism, racism, the Inquisition — were born. Rep. Palatino is not acting “as if he owns the place.”

He’s reminding Filipinos that public spaces belong to every citizen equally. Rep. Palatino may be “courting a firestorm,” but it won’t be coming from the Filipinos who understand secularism. It will be from the tyrants who think they own the place just because they happen to be Catholic.

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Why Religious Symbols and Ceremonies Should Be Banned In Government Offices


Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino recently filed House Bill 6330 or the proposed “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” which seeks to prohibit the display of religious symbols and the conduct of religious ceremonies within the premises and perimeter of government offices, including public places and corridors.

It is high time we have a law like this to give more teeth to the establishment clause under Art. III Sec. 5 of the Philippine Constitution, which states that no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, and uphold the inviolable separation of Church and State under Sec. 6 of our Declaration of Principles.

We can better appreciate the sanctity of this separation by looking into US jurisprudence. In Engel v. Vitale, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark ruling that determined that it is unconstitutional for the State to compose prayers and require them to be recited in public schools, including the following non-denominational prayer which triggered the parents of ten pupils to take the issue to court:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

The US Supreme Court gave the following decision:

Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment of any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day – even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Mr. Justice Black said:

The Establishment Clause, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, does not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not. This is not to say, of course, that laws officially prescribing a particular form of religious worship do not involve coercion of such individuals. When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.

While Engel v. Vitale reinforced the Church-State separation in the US as early as 1962 when the case was decided, secularism is still facing many obstacles in the Philippines even in the 21st century. In Cebu City, some powerful people expressed opposition to Palatino’s House Bill 6330. Mayor Michael Rama said in Cebuano, “It seems he’s trying to fight religion. Why would he want to mess with tradition?” Msgr. Esteban Binghay also said in Cebuano, “Why should people want to keep God out of some places, when all of creation belongs to him?”

It seems that what the opponents do not understand about this bill is that it does not seek to fight religion or to keep God out of some places, but simply to prohibit the government from establishing any religion whether directly or indirectly, which is fully in line with the religious freedom guaranteed in our Constitution. Going back to Engel v. Vitale, Mr. Justice Black further said:

It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit state laws respecting an establishment of religious services in public schools is to indicate a hostility toward religion or toward prayer. Nothing, of course, could be more wrong… [T]he First Amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either… it was written to quiet well-justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men’s tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to. It is neither sacrilegious nor antireligious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.

While the Philippine Constitution guarantees that the free exercise of religion shall forever be allowed, it is a guarantee given to the people to choose their own religion; what is commanded to the State by the same constitutional provision is for it not to endorse any religion and discriminate against people of other religions or no religion.

Kudos to Rep. Raymond Palatino for filing the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act! May this timely bill be passed to help uphold the supposedly inviolable principle that has often been taken for granted in this country – the principle of separation of Church and State.

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Image by Jong Atmosfera

 

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