Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Will the Proposed "Religious Freedom in Government Act" Really Lead to Religious Freedom?

A bill has been proposed which allegedly protects freedom of religion in Philippine government offices. Its proponents--such as Kabataan Partylist representative Raymond Palatino--seem to imply that the law is a step towards greater freedom and democracy in our country. I beg to differ. The misnamed "Religious Freedom in Government Act" will actually curtail religious freedom and undermine the constitution.

The Alleged Issue: "Favoring One Religion Over Another"
“the state cannot be seen as favoring one religion over the other, in allowing the prominent conduct and display of religious ceremonies and symbols, respectively in public offices and property.“
Implied in this justification for the bill is the idea that the state is in fact seen as favoring one religion over the other. Is this true? My experience as a government employee has been limited to UP, where secularism has made disturbing headway. Yet even here, proponents of various faiths still enjoy many freedoms, which includes having a place of worship on university grounds and being allowed to form student organizations with all the privileges. Honestly, I don't know what the situation is like in other government offices, what it is exactly the authors of the bill had in mind when they criticized "the prominent conduct and display of religious ceremonies and symbols". So I'll reserve commenting on that.

An Inevitable Issue: Suppression Instead of Freedom
What does concern me is that the above provision can obviously be used to eliminate any and all "religious ceremonies and symbols," which may even be interpreted to include prayer. It's already happened in the US, where prayer has been banned in public schools. The secularists in the Philippines would like nothing better than that the same thing happened here. And watch out, national campus Christians. This law, if passed, will set precedents that your university or college may adapt, and your Christian organization may conceivably be denied the right to a tambayan (gathering place), while the same limitation is not given to non-religious/anti-religious organizations of all kinds.

In UP Diliman, there are two church buildings: one for Catholics and another for Protestants. I suppose if the number of Muslim students increases significantly, then the university might be inclined to allow for the construction of a mosque. I don't think Evangelical Christians should have a problem with that. But let me air an obvious question: Aren't church buildings also religious symbols? If the bill passes, I predict UP will adopt similar policies, and if that happens, then religious organizations, campus churches, and even individual students will find themselves in a very tough spot.

I understand this is all conjecture. None of this may actually happen. But it might. We have to keep watching because developments in this area will definitely affect the way we worship and witness.


And by the way, Article 3, Section 5 of our Constitution says,
“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. 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."
A related article posted in Filipinofreethinkers.org cited the same provision in support of the proposed bill. How did they manage that? Instead of quoting the text, they dishonestly claimed that it "states that no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion."

Who else is sick and tired of the intellectual dishonesty being employed by those who claim to hold intellectual high ground over Christians?

"Ban on Religious Rights Pushed" - Manila Standard Today

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