Opinion

8 Reasons the Philippine Separation of Church and State is a (Bad) Joke

Where is the line drawn, and what does it entail?

| August 31, 2015

8 Reasons the Philippine Separation of Church and State is a (Bad) Joke

With the ridiculous mass of people in EDSA supposedly fighting for “Separation of Church and State” amid an impending investigation into potentially criminal activities involving a certain church’s leadership, it has been easy to point and laugh at their gross misunderstanding of this inviolable right granted unto us by the 1987 constitution.

Unfortunately, this rare moment where we can flaunt our apparent moral ascendancy in this matter does not necessarily mean we are that much better. Most of us are guilty of not understanding the implications of a genuine separation between church and state.

Take, for example…

 

8. This DOJ investigation actually upholds the separation of church and state.

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There is a saying that goes “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” The practice of ordination or excommunication, both big deals in most religions, are out of the jurisdiction of the government, no matter how sexist (any female priests lately?) or outdated (excommunication in general) they may actually be. This very separation is why, if, say, gay marriage were made legal in the Philippines, religions need not worry about being forced to fall in line with this newly legalized practice.

However, state affairs, such as investigations regarding actionable complaints involving, in this case, illegal detention and gross misuse of funds, are indeed state affairs–regardless if those standing accused are religious leaders. Church and State are separate precisely so that the State can investigate a legal, criminal issue without having to consider the rank of the religious leaders in question. Since their religious position is none of the government’s concern but rather the allegations of what, in secular society we would normally call “kidnapping” and “plunder” instead of “illegal detention” and “gross misuse of funds” actually are.

Was De Lima investigating this case “selective?” I wouldn’t know, but that’s the point. Who does? What’s important is to find out if the case was actionable, and in this case, it apparently was. The INC leadership are reading from the exact same playbook the ADD leadership was when they insisted the late former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales was persecuting them when he took an interest in the allegations of rape against Brother Eli Soriano.  Sounds familiar? Two years ago, I got threats for pointing out that fact offhand in a previous article, and was even accused of maybe being a paid hack for the INC.

Observing these things and pointing them out to be allegations that are actionable are the rights of anyone, yet somehow, because religion is involved, these people suddenly become untouchable and irreproachable. The same goes for law enforcement agencies who might have reason to work on these issues.

It Gets Worse: When the rally started in EDSA last Friday, they did so without a permit, yet were treated with kid gloves, despite the fact that a journalist was assaulted by the mob. Separation of Church and State means that when this call was made, whoever organized this demonstration is guilty of sedition, and the subsequent demonstration has to be dispersed. Instead, they were handed a permit post hoc, which does not happen if, say, a labor group tried to pull the same stunt. Why would a church get preferential treatment over a bunch of disgruntled workers? Do they not have the same rights to address their grievances? Because bloc voting, which we’ll get into in a bit.

 

7. We have laws that currently favor specific religions (when this shouldn’t be the case).

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Remind yourself what Freddie Aguilar did in 2013 when, at the time, he couldn’t legally marry his 16-year old girlfriend. That’s right: he changed religions.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that religions should be taxed, but as it stands, Separation of Church and State is already being ignored in ways very advantageous for religious organizations, such as the special consideration regarding marriage for our Muslim brothers.

We are not under shariah law, yet these marriage exceptions magically exist. Neither are we under puritanical law, yet it’s illegal to “offend religious feelings,” which is what got Carlos Celdran in trouble. We are a secular government governed by laws held in common for Filipinos regardless of creed or lack of it. So why are we making these concessions?

It Gets Worse: The BBL is one of the things we need to bring peace to Mindanao. If only for its goal, that of solving the peace and order situation in Mindanao, it should be put into action. But the means? The part where we give special rights to other people because they’re of a specific religion? It’s easy to find that iffy, although to be fair, most of us find that questionable mainly because it favors Muslims. And hey, most of us reading this right now aren’t Muslims, right? Meanwhile, any law that might privilege other religions over others will continue going unchecked. And if not laws, how about…

 

6. Our government funds or practices religious activities and functions (when it shouldn’t).

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Holidays? I get that. Making concessions for a visiting Pope? I get that, too. The Angelus being blared on the PA for a government office? Christmas trees in City Hall? Swearing on a Bible in a trial? Billboard in Cavite welcoming the Pope despite him not being scheduled to pass there? Massive tarps with politician’s faces wishing the Iglesia a happy 10X’th anniversary? Hold on a minute here.

There is nothing wrong with a private individual expressing their faith. If a government employee uses their personal money to buy a rosary, where’s the harm? But when the government spends taxpayer money to favor a particular religion or another, that’s questionable, because where is the spending on Rizalistas? The Scientologists? The atheists? The (insert obscure religion here)? Why do only select religions get this special treatment?

It Gets Worse: Religious freedom means one is free to believe or not to believe in what they want. Despite that, when Mideo Cruz came up with his controversial exhibit called “Politeismo,” people got so offended that the whole exhibit was shut down ahead of schedule. Yes, freedom of expression does not come with freedom from consequences, but when the government steps in to favor a religion at the expense of everyone else when the sensible solution was to not go to the exhibit that might offend you, it’s pretty clear that Separation of Church and State is a myth in this country. Just ask Mong Palatino, who tried really hard to make it happen and failed. Miserably.

 

5. The right to religion needs to work in conjunction with our other rights.

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Religious people have the same rights non-religious people have. They can’t insist that their freedom should trump the freedom of other people, such that while Muslims may choose to not eat pork, Iglesias may choose to not eat dinuguan, and Catholics may abstain from meat on Fridays. They cannot practice this and then ignore the rights of other people to practice differently. In short, walang basagan ng trip. Any chance people can understand that distinction?

Of course, this needs to come with the reminder: illegal detention is a serious crime, not just a “trip.” Just in case people forget this little detail.

It Gets Worse: The right to life, liberty, and property is a very important right. It is perhaps the most basic of human rights. When a man decides to become a priest, he willingly cedes that right in the service of a perceived higher cause. When someone gets illegally detained, this happens against their will (why else would they sue?) and is an abrogation of a person’s rights.

 

4. We currently do not legislate with secular sensibilities in mind.

Why is divorce illegal in this country? Because morality, blah, Vatican, blah. Where does that leave everybody else, no matter how minor?

Is divorce immoral? I guess that’s debatable, but the government’s function is not to legislate morality, and certainly not to legislate the kind of morality observed only by Catholics (since practically every other religion allows for divorce, albeit begrudgingly). The fact that we keep citing religious reasons for issues like divorce, the RH Law and, chances are, marriage equality, only goes to show our “separation” of Church and State has been vestigial at best all this time.

It Gets Worse: If Separation of Church and State has been functionally ignored for decades by the Philippines, why is the INC protesting it only now? Why, because it now works to their advantage to do so, even if they used a very misguided reading of the provision to do it. If for some reason, we would elect a president who turned out to be, say, a Satanist, do you think that the CBCP would let him express his religion in public the way they encouraged it when GMA used to do this all the time for photo ops?

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Insert tongue-in-cheek comment here.

3. Religious leaders are not above the law. (Well, duh.)

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Via Tumblr

Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, yes. The non-establishment of a state religion is in place to assure us that religious leaders do not have the kind of power they had during the medieval ages. It protects the state from them, but it also protects the other religions who might not be as lucky as the one that gets to run a theocracy. In theory, it should all work out for the best but we all know that’s not the case.

Despite that, if a religion happened to celebrate ritual human sacrifice, it’s pretty sure that such a practice being religious in nature will not protect it from prosecution. We still have our limits (I hope).

It Gets Worse: Does this story sound familiar? Maybe the CBCP doesn’t have the power to mobilize people to EDSA to stage a rally on a payday Friday at the start of a long weekend, but it’s fairly obvious that the notion of “investigation” and “suspicion” is easily muddled with the pretense of “persecution.” It’s just that this time, we have a more persuasive church leadership demanding that its rank and file members protect it from having people look into their billion-peso aircraft and alleged penchant for playing hide the minister.

 

2. Bloc voting is shady, but not necessarily illegal.

While there is some level of protection afforded the government by theoretical separation of State and Church, most of the protection is in favor of the Church, actually. For example, the government can’t dictate who becomes church leaders to a given church, but the church can dictate to their flock who to vote for, and if the flock obeys, well, that’s just too bad for the candidates who didn’t curry the favor of the church in question.

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Via Tumblr

 Also Shady. Also not illegal, if only the FCC would let him be.

A church as a unit but a bunch of private individuals when apart, it isn’t exactly possible to insist that the church not have a say in the affairs of the state, so while reprehensible since it leads to politicians figuratively (I think) getting into bed with religious leaders just to gain their endorsement, its just like feudalism all over again. This is also why some sectors insist that it’s time the church started paying taxes, which is a topic for another day.

It Gets Worse: Pastor Quiboloy endorsed Gibo Teodoro in 2010, calling him “Gibobama.” Doesn’t it put your own god into question when your leader who is supposedly the second coming of Christ himself doesn’t even have the ability to guarantee a presidential win for one of the best candidates on paper?

 

1. Our government and churches break the “inviolable” separation between them whenever it’s convenient or advantageous to do so.

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All of these arguments have been nothing but a showcase in the many ways the constitutional provision of Separation of Church and State has been nothing more than a joke in this country, and it is only ever brought up as an issue when people’s privilege on the matter is challenged.

It is so ingrained in us to be Catholic, or to be Christian, or to be INC, or to be Muslim, or to be any other creed, that it seems normal and appropriate when we want the government to conform to our beliefs, even if other people do not necessarily share these beliefs. Is it wrong? Yes. Is it evil? Not necessarily. But it is a mistaken notion that needs to be challenged and corrected.

The religious are privileged in status in that the norm follows their common practices so much that when other people call attention to it being actually discriminatory in their favor, they cry “persecution” instead of recognizing it for what it truly is: a call for equal treatment for everyone in the eyes of the law. No rich. No poor. No man. No woman. No Catholic. No Iglesia. No atheist. Just a Filipino citizen with the same rights and freedoms as every other Filipino citizen. If an atheist Filipino has to celebrate “Happy Secular Holidays” without the government greeting him, why would he have to put up with it when a Christian is pandered to with Christmas billboards featuring politicians spending his tax money to remind him how oh-so-Christian his leaders are in celebrating Christmas? Just like Chinese-Filipino Tiffany Uy is every bit as Filipino as the rest of us, why wouldn’t this atheist Filipino likewise be?

Look at it this way: if you’re already going to heaven after all this is said and done, why the need to make everyone else’s life a living hell just to spite them?

If you truly believe in the inherent merit of Separation of Church and State, then know one thing: we have a long way to go to actually having it. A misguided rally in EDSA is not going to solve anything for us. In fact, the whole thing set us all back a long way, and the only thing that separated that day was us and the fantasy that Separation of Church and State was ever a thing in this “secular” country.

 

 

Where do you weigh in on the matter? Share your opinion in the comments section below!