SENATOR Risa Hontiveros tried to assure religious groups that the Sogie bill (S.B. 159) won’t offend religious sensitivities. Her move to package the bill as harmless is understandable in our context where many institutions, specifically schools, are owned or managed by religious groups or congregations.
In her Facebook page, she posted and shared an infographic enumerating some facts of the said bill. Among others, Hontiveros clarifies that the proposed legislation “will not penalize practice religious or academic freedom”, and that neither “will churches be dictated on their teachings or hiring process.”
Finally, it is clarified that the bill “is not a same-sex marriage bill.” The immediately preceding statement needs a separate discussion, so let’s focus on just a few portions of the bill for now.
It appears to me that Hontiveros’s attempt to appease religious groups with the abovementioned assurances is somewhat not fully supported by the bill, as evidenced by specific provisions.
Take the case of what is mentioned in section 5c:
No person, nature or juridical may [r]effuse admission or expel a person from any educational or training institution on the basis of SOGIE: Provided, However that the right of educational and training institutions to determine the academic qualifications of their students or trainees shall be duly upheld 5cxxx
Apparently, the provision seeks to strike balance between the right of an individual and the right of another private individual, i.e. the institution. There is a high likelihood though that the provision will become more of a point of departure for future debates rather than an all-out response or solution to whatever possible tension between a member of the LGBTQ community and, say, a private religious school.
It may be asked, to be more concrete, when, where, and how exactly would an educational institution, specifically one that is religious or sectarian, exercise its determination of academic freedom or management prerogative vis-à-vis a law that prohibits discrimination? Is the provision (sec. 5c) an implicit grant of an exemption or immunity to private religious or sectarian schools? More clearly we may ask: are sectarian or religious schools or institutions given an option in the guise of academic freedom or management prerogative – to positively discriminate LGBTQ? I doubt if this is what Hontiveros thinks.
One of Sogie bills essential portions is section 3a, which defines discrimination as:
“any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on any ground such as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, access to, enjoyment, or exercise by all persons on an equal footing of all rights and freedoms...”
The definition itself can be a source of more conflicts of interpretations and positions in the future. Educational institutions cannot, sometimes, avoid operating on the basis of classifications. Given that religious or sectarian institutions are guided by their beliefs or theological convictions then such classifications and distinctions are all the more clearly defined.
How shall we settle what for now we may call a hypothetical tension, between a trans-woman who would object to what s/he feels as a form of discrimination every time a religion or a theology teacher would say in class that “God created only man and woman?” Will the matter be settled in favor of academic freedom or religious freedom, or should equal protection that should be afforded to “all human beings” prevail? Should the trans-woman when answering the professor’s exam concede to a gender-based proposition in respect to the school’s academic freedom? Or should the professor reframe his convictions and concede to the objections for fear of getting legal charges?
There are many things that have to be settled. The bill should not be rushed in its current form. Discrimination is something no person should tolerate in a civilized society. This we have to understand though in the light of reason, always coupled with prudence and balanced judgment.