Free exercise of religion-A A +A
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
OUR country is predominantly Christian, majority of them Catholics. Among the Christian faithful, Roman Catholics display icons or images of Jesus Christ and saints in churches and in other places of worships. These are displayed even in government offices.
In public schools where I finished my elementary and high school education, the crucifix or image of Jesus Christ is part of the fixtures in every classroom. We say prayers before and after classes. Catechism was taught in the primary grades.
During those years, I couldn’t recall a politician daring to question the Catholic and Christian practices that we did in school. Holy mass celebrated by a Catholic priest always precede a government activity or celebration.
House Bill No. 6330 or, the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act that Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino authored could cause another strain between the government and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
In his short bio, Rep. Palatino did not mention his religion. But he was a student leader in his college days in UP Diliman. “Mong” to his close friends, Palatino was president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) from 2001 to 2003.
Palatino must have been influenced by the current trend in the United States where public schools can no longer display icons or crucifix of Jesus Christ. This followed the demand of Muslim students to remove them, as these offended their belief.
Palatino’s bill (I doubt Congress would pass it), prohibits religious ceremonies and the display of religious symbols within the premises of government offices, public place and corridors.
Section 5 of the Bill of Rights provides: “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.”
Both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause restrict government from passing laws that interfere with religion. There are no restrictions on a religion except that a religious denomination cannot become the state religion.
Palatino’s bill prohibits and interferes with the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship that Section 5, Article III of our Constitution protects and restricts.
The separation of church and state is a common metaphor that is well recognized. Equally recognized is the allegory that the church stays out of the state's business and the state stays out of the church's business.
Most people incorrectly think that because of the very common usage of the phrase separation of church and state, this is so provided in the constitution but it is not.
What could have encouraged Palatino to sponsor this bill is something that he only knows. Gov. Gwen Garcia and Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza strongly disagree with this bill. Congressman Tomas Osmeña’s position, however, is wishy-washy.
Congressman Tomas would only allow the display of religious icons in city hall or government offices if all the employees agree. I don’t suppose a Muslim employee would consent if asked.
Palatino should be reminded that the Constitution he is bound to observe and protect provides that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 21, 2012.