01 Sep Questions about the INC’s Issues? Atty. Raymond Fortun may just have the answers

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JUAN SAYS: We found this post by Atty. Fortun simply humorous but he delivers a very good point to the ongoing debates about “religious freedom,” the separation of the church and the state. Let’s understand the law. Because ignorance of the law, excuses no one.
 
THE PRICE OF (RELIGIOUS) FREEDOM, AT SINO SI JOMAR POTERTE?
 
Two weeks ago, I was invited to talk about the Cybercrime Law and Cyber Bullying at the premiere university in Tagbilaran City, which was followed by a pretty vibrant open forum covering a wide range of topics (some of them NOT related to the topic). Last night, I somehow found myself dreaming about the open forum, and the questions and responses I made therein. As far as my recollection of my dream went, this is what transpired:
 
Q: Attorney, ano po ba yung concept na “separation of church and state”?
 
RF: Article II Section 6 of our Constitution provides that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. This is more clearly defined in the Bill of Rights where it is stated: “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.”
 
During the Spanish rule, Catholicism was protected by the Spanish Penal Code, which was in effect in the Philippines and there were six (6) crimes “against religion and worship”. When the Americans came, the Catholic church was immediately denied the privileged position it occupied under Spanish sovereignty, and the recognition of the equal position of other religions.
 
In the most simple terms po, “separation of church and state” means NO FAVORITISM by the government to favor a particular religion, nor can the government pass any laws to persecute a particular religion.
 
Q: So pwede po ba na mag-organize ng worship service ang any religion in the middle of EDSA?
 
RF: Of course! So long as the State allows it. But you see, the State also has an obligation to regulate peace and order. An inherent power of government is “police power”. The State’s duty is to ensure that people follow certain rules, and that includes traffic rules. If the practice of a religion would affect the rights of others, for example, the right of the citizenry to the use of a public road, then the State can enforce its traffic rules in the exercise of police power. Please take note that the exercise of a religion or expression of a religious belief is not an absolute right, especially if they affect other people’s rights. I mean, pwede naman sila mag-worship in some place without causing traffic, right?
 
Q: Can a religious group argue that the worshipping in EDSA is an ecclesiastical matter over which State or secular authority has no power over?
 
RF: Hindi po, sorry. I will give a perfect example. In the case of Austria vs. NLRC, there was this pastor of 28 years experience who could not account for the church tithes and offerings. The pastor was dismissed by his religious group. When the government (the NLRC) affirmed the dismissal, the pastor questioned the State’s interference on an “ecclesiastical matter”. The Supreme Court, however, rejected this argument and said that what was involved was the relationship of the church as an employer and the minister as an employee, which was a purely secular matter. It has no relation whatsoever with the practice of faith, worship or doctrines of the church.
 
Q: What if the complaint is about the corruption inside the church?
 
RF: That is a secular matter as well po. It does NOT involve any regulation, prohibition or curtailment of the practice of a religion. Rather, it is the State’s exercise of its right to: (1) entertain a complaint by one of its citizens without favoritism; (2) investigate complaints where there is an alleged violation of the State’s criminal laws; and (3) protect its citizens from possible criminal actions of the persons being charged.
 
The State has been pretty consistent in investigating and subsequently prosecuting offenders, regardless of their religious persuasion. That is the correct thing to do. Can you imagine what would happen if a Catholic priest is charged with sexually abusing an altar boy, and the State would say that it cannot interfere in an “internal religious matter”? Wouldn’t that be favoritism for the Catholic church? The same should hold true with regard to an accusation by a person connected with a particular religion who makes an accusation of corruption against certain church leaders; the State MUST do its job to investigate and subsequently prosecute if there is probable cause that a crime/s has been committed and that the accused deserve to stand trial.
 
Q: Kung meron pong religious group who conducts a worship service in the middle of EDSA, what can the State do?
 
RF: The State can grant them a permit, but so long as they will not unduly cause traffic and inconvenience motorists. Otherwise, they can be dispersed using crowd control units of the local police and water cannons.
 
Q: If the State uses water cannons, can we have a Catholic priest bless the water para pag nabasa yung mga nagwo-worship ay maging abo sila?
 
RF: (laughs at the question) It is highly doubtful that those exercising a religion will ‘light up in flames’ if hit by holy water, even if what is being practiced is devil worship. Besides, that a demon would be hurt, smolder and turn to ashes due to holy water has not been scientifically proven. Sa pelikula lang po yon hahaha!
 
Q: Last two questions po, attorney. Sino po ang bobotohin nyo sa 2016 elections?
 
RF: Yung pong front-runner po. Si JoMar “Bong” Poterte.
 
Q: Eh sa vice-president po?
 
RF: Siyempre, sa front-runner din. Si Heart!
 
Q: Attorney, she’s not running po.
 
RF: Oh crap. Really? Pwedeng siya na lang?
 
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