Legal experts weigh in on religious freedom in the secular state

| Written by UP Media and Public Relations Office

The UP Law Center headed a forum to help the Philippine legal system grapple with the mandates of both religious freedom and state secularization amid religious pluralism in the country. The forum was held on August 3, 2017 at Malcom Hall, UP Diliman.

The organizers flew in expertise from the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School International Center for Law and Religion Studies (BYU-JRCLS-ICLRC), Valparaiso University Law School (VALS), and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to provide world perspectives on the issue. Experts based in the Philippines discussed the local situation and jurisprudence.

The keynote speakers were: W. Cole Durham, founding director of the ICLRC, who discussed American and European responses to the “erosion” of the right to freedom of religion; Prof. Zachary Calo, research scholar in law and religion of VALS, who did a philosophical take on the issue citing a Vatican proposal for church participation in state affairs; and, ICC Judge Raul Pangalangan, who talked about “laicite and religiosity in the Philippine public sphere.” For the closing message, Justice Marvic Leonen gave his dissent over “benevolent neutrality” and jurisprudence which would uphold the dominance of one religion.

On behalf of UP President Danilo Concepcion, Vice President for Public Affairs Jose Dalisay Jr. (extreme right) welcomes the participants of an international forum on law and religion at Malcolm Theater, UP Diliman, August 3, 2017. (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)

Special Sessions

Durham and Calo were also resource speakers on a special session on trends in US Supreme Court law on religious freedom. Dean Jose Manuel Diokno of the De La Salle University College of Law discussed Philippine constitutional provisions on religion vis-a-vis universal human rights. Prof. Florin Hilbay of the UP College of Law talked about constitutionalism and mimicry on religious freedoms and rights.

Director Patricia Salvador-Daway of the UP Institute for the Administration of Justice gave a presentation on freedom of religion at the workplace. Dean Serafin Cuevas Jr. of the New Era University College of Law discussed collision and interface between law and religion. Dean Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis of the Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law talked mainly of the oft-cited Escritor vs. Estrada case.

Three reactors were assigned for each special session. They were: Leo Battad, Rowena Daroy-Morales, and Ryan Oliva from the UP College of Law; Nielson Pangan and Lorna Patajo-Kapunan from Far Eastern University; Jemy Benigno Gatdula from the University of Asia and the Pacific School of Law and Governance; Jaime Hofileña from the Ateneo de Manila University; and, Benedicto Ernesto Bitonio from the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Reactors also included: former Commissioners Nasser Marhomsalic and Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, of Human Rights and Internal Revenue, respectively; Fina Bernadette dela Cuesta-Tantuico of the Philippine Bar Association, and Regal Oliva of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; Jo Aurea Imbong of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and Alvaro Senturias Jr. of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines; Marie Curie Fellow on Sustainable Peace Building, Jenny Lind Elmaco and President Henry Rojas of Lawyers Beyond Borders; Laguna RTC Judge Divinagracia Bustos Ongkeko, and legal adviser Rafael Aquino.

Secularism vs Secularity

According to Durham, the heart of the issue is finding ways for people with deep differences to live in harmony.

(Left to right) United Church of Christ in the Philippines Pastor Alvaro Senturias Jr., Lawyers Beyond Borders President Henry Rojas, and Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines legal counsel Jo Aurea Imbong are reactors of a special session of an international forum on law and religion, August 3, 2017, at Malcolm Hall, UP Diliman. UP Law Center’s Bertrand Theodor Santos is moderator. (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)

In the Western world, a strict scrutiny of “compelling state interest” has been required to curtail religious freedom. But Durham reminded the audience, who were considering separation of church and state, of the difference between secularism and secularity. Secularism is making the secular an end in itself, aspiring to be “free from religion”–usually referring to the domination of one religion–and ending up being an oppressor itself. Secularity is a framework to provide protection for everyone to live their religious beliefs. It is characterized by “freedom of religion.”

Pangalangan concluded that in the Philippines, people, who have experienced a flawed democracy and governments appropriated for profits of a few, find their place politically in religiously constituted communities. Religion has been “a double shot of espresso for partisan and collective striving; and the challenge to the secular state is to leave enough room for that state to allow the activist faithful to transform the world.”

Calo proposed going into the meaning of the secular and the religious, using their genealogy and interplay, seeing that often, they are regarded to be in “a zero-sum binary relationship.” He offered the vision of Pope Benedict XVI for a “healthy secularity,” a modernity where religion has a place in the secular. (Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)