Implying that displaying religious symbols and holding religious ceremonies in and around public offices can give a bad impression of government due to a perceived lack of neutrality, a youth party-list representative said that House Bill 6330, or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” carries out the provision contained in the Philippine Constitution that guarantees religious freedom.
“The religion of the minority ought to be respected, too. In a democracy, the rights of the minority should be protected also,” Kabataan Party List Representative Raymond Palatino said on the morning television show Umagang Kay Ganda Tuesday.
The solon said that people – who may be of different faiths — who drop by government offices go there “not to affirm their spiritual beliefs” but to transact with the government.
“So not all religious icons are acceptable. That’s why the government has to be neutral,” he explained.
Ban on practice of faith = religious freedom?
HB 6330 – which some have come to refer to as the “Ban God Bill” — prohibits the display of religious symbols and the conduct of religious ceremonies within the premises and perimeter of government offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus. It directs heads of offices and departments to strictly implement the constitutional provisions on religious freedom in government offices.
Palatino alluded to the Constitutional right to freedom of religion as the basis of his measure, which a Church official likewise pointed out as being violated by the bill.
“There should be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. There should be no establishment [of a State religion] pero wala ding prohibition ng free exercise,” said Fr. Melvin Castro, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (CBCP-ECFL).
Article 3, Section 5 of the Philippine Constitution states the following:
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.
Castro pointed out that leaders don’t impose the display of religious symbols in government offices – it’s individual employees who decide on this. Hence, it’s contradictory to refer to the bill as one promoting religious freedom, he said, since it’s the curtailment of the freedom of religious expression that the measure does.
The practice of faith is an expression of individuals, and piety is part and parcel of our humanity, Castro continued.
“Sa panukalang basta na ito, itinutulak nating palayo ang Diyos. Hindi naman pwedeng paghiwalayin ang pagkatao ng isang tao, na siya’y isang mananampalataya ng anumang relihiyon, and at the same time he is a citizen of the Republic. Para nating paghahatiin ang pagkatao niya… (In this proposed bill, we are pushing away God. It’s impossible to dichotomize a person, in which one part is him as a faithful practitioner of his religion and another separate part is a citizen of the Republic. It’s like we’re trying to divide his humanity…).”
While Castro reiterated that it is individual employees who display religious symbols in their work stations and who organize masses and other religious gatherings, Palatino pointed out the need for a measure like HB 6330 to remind agency heads about guidelines concerning neutrality in terms of religion.
“Binigyan natin ng additional duty ang mga heads of government agencies… reminder lang ito, na dapat may guidelines kung paano ang neutrality pagdating sa relihiyon,” Palatino said.
“This House Bill is not particular about any religion,” he added. “What’s clear is that inside government offices, there should be no cause for misinterpretation of favoring one particular religion. Dapat walang religious icons, symbols and ceremonies.”
“We don’t see a need to enact such a law,” Castro said.
“Ang kailangan lang naman diyan ay paalala, eh di paalalahan [ang mga government heads] na huwag gawing [imposition] ang religious ceremony,” he added. “But the moment na gumawa tayo ng batas… mag-i-impose ka na huwag gawin ito sa mga government offices. Iyon ang pagkikil sa freedom of expression.” (CBCP for Life)