Dictating, or dictated upon?

By Francisco S. Tatad

At last week’s resumption of oral arguments before the Supreme Court against the validity of the Reproductive Health Law, there arose an interesting exchange on religious liberty. Counsel Luisito Liban of Couples for Christ Foundation, Inc. argued that the law violates the right of Catholics who believe that contraception is intrinsically evil, for it compels them to choose between their faith and the law. If they are health care providers, it requires them to provide RH services which they oppose in conscience, or to refer the interested party to others who are not conscientious objectors.

Justice Leonen, the Court’s youngest member, reminded Liban that Catholics were not the only ones around. He greeted the lawyer in Arabic to call attention to the Muslims. It was a sensational opening, but if the intention was to speak of religious pluralism and tolerance, I thought Islam was hardly the best example of a religion that tolerated others. In any case, the discussion turned to the constitutional “separation” of Church and State.

Sec. 6 of Article II of the Constitution provides, “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” This is not always studied well nor properly understood. To do so we need to go back to history and understand the goal of government (in the natural order), and that of the Church (in the supernatural order).

After the “Edict of Milan” in 313 formally ended the persecution of Christians (we marked its milleseptuacentennial earlier this year), the Church had to deal with the effects of Emperor Constantine’s Caesaropapism. It took Pope Gelasius I, in a famous letter to Empereror Anastasius in 494, to point out the distinction between sacred and kingly powers. From this flowed the nurture of the “separation” principle.

Now, the goal of government is the temporal common good, which includes both the material and the spiritual, while the goal of the Church is the eternal. Both Church and State serve the same human person, who is both body and soul, and who has God as his Last End. They have a common responsibility to lead man to that End. As such, they must work together, not against each other. But they must do so, according to their respective areas of competence.

The Church administers the sacraments, while the State administers the system of government, the fiscal laws, etc. The State may legislate freely on anything that affects the citizen as citizen, but it may not do so on that which pertains to man as man. Thus the State can command the citizen to pay taxes, to have his property expropriated for a public purpose, to go to war and possibly die in defense of his country; but it cannot tell him how to make love to his wife. That is not within its police powers.

As Frank Sheed explains, “every man is a citizen, but not only a citizen. It is not the citizen who embraces his wife and begets his children, but the man; it is the man who plays his games and dreams his dreams…; the man who worships his God and serves him well or ill.” The philosopher-author Joseph de Torre points out that the State cannot legislate on the internal acts of man, since “no human authority can penetrate the interior life of man.”

But this is the very first thing violated by the RH Law. The violation is twice compounded when it prescribes, as it does, a moral evil, in the eyes of the Church. The question therefore is not whether, in opposing the RH Law, the Church is violating the “separation” of Church and State, as Justice Leonen asked Liban, but rather whether, in imposing universal contraception on Catholics, the government is not violating the “separation.”

Contrary to erroneous perception, Catholics are not asking the State to legislate into statute the Church teaching against contraception. They are simply asking the State, pursuant to the Bill of Rights which forbids any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” not to pass any law that attacks a Church teaching and a deeply held moral and religious belief among Catholics. But this is precisely what the RH Law has done.

It is absurd to suggest that every Catholic follows every teaching of the Church. But their disobedience or dissent does not allow the State to tell Catholics not to listen to what their Church teaches, and to follow Congress or the President instead. The State has no right or duty to pass upon the religious belief of any of its citizens. Its only duty is to recognize that they hold a particular belief and to defend and protect their right to hold and practice such belief. The RH Law not only disrespects but openly attacks the right of Catholics to practice their deeply held belief.

“If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind,” says John Stuart Mill. Filipino Catholics are not merely expressing an “opinion” about the family and human life; rather they are affirming a deeply held religious belief about the family and human life. And they constitute not just one or a few but the overwhelming majority of Filipinos.

By no means are they trying to dictate anything on anyone; they are the ones being dictated upon.


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