The Church and the State

For the longest time, a rational population management policy eludes the Philippine government due to the rabid opposition by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. So it is not a surprise when a councilor in Quezon City is met by stiff opposition by the Church (like this one: Cubao bishop opposes proposed QC population policy).

Historically, the Church and the State were intertwined since the Spanish colonization of these islands (some would even dare say that the Church and the State were one and the same). The arrival of the Americans and the invasion by the Japanese were just great interruptions in the relationship. It is therefore not surprising that the Church exercises great influence in the government. And it exercises that influence well.

Everyone who knows his Constitution will argue that this influence is crossing a thin line defined by the Separation clause (Article II, Section 6), to wit:

The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

However, I will not condemn the Church for its rabid opposition to birth control, rational or scientific its reasons or not notwithstanding. The Bill of Rights has this to say about religious freedom:

Section 5. 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.

I believe that the Church, through its people, is exercising a right guaranteed by the Constitution. I cannot blame them if they oppose birth control with a fervor of an army ready to do battle with the enemy. Not only they are entitled to express opposition, they are also entitled to express their religious belief. And that includes the usual political gimmick (blackmail, pressure, to name a few). I will not begrudge them for their religious belief.

I will not give the same leniency to the government. Specifically, Gloria Arroyo.

Article 2, Section has this to say:

The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.

Note the phrase “the life of the unborn FROM CONCEPTION” (emphasis mine). As you can see, the Constitution is clear that it will protect the unborn upon conception. Conception is defined loosely as when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell (Wikipedia). There is no constitutional barrier that prevents the government from instituting artificial family planning methods. But what prevents this government from doing so?

There are several issues that needs to be cleared here.

1. Does a president have the right to impose his religious conviction on the nation? Hell, NO! That is tantamount to establishing a state religion, which is expressly forbidden by the Constitution.
2. Does the government have the right to impose a policy that is clearly in violation of one’s religious belief? The answer is unclear at this point – we will need a court case to establish a solid answer. I think the answer is generally no; refer to Article III, Section 5 as stated above.

That’s why I wondered why no one challenged Lito Atienza when he banned the distribution of condoms and similar materials from Manila’s health centers. I think what he did what patently illegal, since his reason is religious in nature. This is the same reason why the Department of Health and the Population Commission are not pushing hard for artificial family planning methods. And this I condemn with strong words. This is the Catholic Taliban in action. The government is not even promoting such use only because it is against Gloria Arroyo’s religious belief.

Let me clear things out in closing.

1. The Church has every right to oppose artificial family planning methods and the Government from instituting such policy. However, the Church is limited to such opposition but doesn’t have the right to disrupt the Government from doing its job (specially when what the Government is doing is legal). It doesn’t have the right to impose its beliefs on the State.
2. The Government has every right to institute policies that will protect the people’s well being. However, it doesn’t have the right to impose a policy that is clearly against a person’s religious belief. (This is a gray area, specially when “imminent danger” is invoked.)
3. Gloria Arroyo, Lito Atienza, and other members of the Catholic Taliban have no right to impose their religious beliefs to anyone. They have no right to use the executive powers granted to them by the Constitution and the laws to “obfuscate” religious belief as government policy.
4. Every Filipino is free to choose what he wants, within the limits of the Constitution and his religious beliefs. Neither the Government nor the Church has the right to impose their beliefs on a Filipino citizen. If a citizen desires to use artificial family planning methods, the Government and/or the Church can’t stop him.

The Government must promote (not push) artificial family planning to those who are willing to use it. It should not be denied to those who need it most. I believe that the policy should be of promotion, not institutionalization.

This post was made in reaction to The Jester-in-Exile’s post on the same topic.

21 thoughts on “The Church and the State

  1. Pingback: Iguanaz » The Church and the State

  2. Interesting and well-written post. I agree with what you said. As what I always post on twitter, we cannot have a government that imposes any one theology on everybody because that’s already trampling upon the other people’s rights to exercise their religious freedom. And yes, I do understand that Catholics do have the right to promote whatever they think is right regarding family planning, they cannot force those beliefs on the entire nation. I think most Filipinos still have the notion that the Philippines is a “Catholic” country. We are not. We are just a country with many Filipinos who happen to be Catholic (and, of course, our time with the Spaniards is one particular reason for it). Catholics just have to respect that there are different beliefs that exist and that they should respect it.

    I’ve also read Jester-in-exile’s post and I’m contemplating my response to it. The above comment is just one of the many thoughts that ran through my head when I read Jester’s and your post. :-)

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  4. Stupid/irrational isn’t the same as illegal/unconstitutional.

    Under our current system, deciding on how to spend public funds is the prerogative of elected officials. I disagree with the government’s refusal to distribute contraceptives as part of a population management strategy, but it’s not really a violation of the separation of church and state. There’s no constitutional guarantee for free condoms 😛 As long as they don’t try to ban the sale of contraceptives, they haven’t crossed the line.

    It’s simple. If you don’t want religion influencing government policies, don’t vote religious nuts into office.

    P.S. I didn’t know that we have an explicitly “pro-life” constitution… interesting :-/

  5. Pingback: Khoops Blog | Taking Advantage of Religious Freedoms

  6. I am not about to surrender my rights to a bunch of hypocrites and pedophiles. Let them clean up their act first before they open their mouths. As long as you try to take the path of good, God will bless you.

    Inggit lang sila kasi bawal sa kanila ang sex. So they try to impose upon us the same celibacy they have to adhere to. With regards to Gloria and Atienza, I hope they can feed the growing number of huge families because they lack the political and moral will to address this problem.

  7. to Schumey:

    “Inggit lang sila kasi bawal sa kanila ang sex. So they try to impose upon us the same celibacy they have to adhere to.”

    — Maybe :-) And to think that these religious authorities have the gall to administer marriage counselling when they themselves do not have knowledge of what marriage actually is.

  8. There were priests in the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, so it was not a surprise. And add the fact that most members of the commission were Catholics.

  9. “Catholics just have to respect that there are different beliefs that exist and that they should respect it.”

    This is one of the ugliest paradox of democracy, in a sense. They can always use the tyranny of numbers, defeat every pro-choice bills, and approve pro-life ones.

  10. to Jester:

    Oh I wouldn’t be surprised. The Church would pay millions to victims of sexual abuse by its priests just so that they “stop talking” and not file criminal charges.

    Go read the article here.

  11. What else can I say but I agree with most of you.

    It’s also apparent that our gov’t is playing favorites. You don’t see anyone condemning pork consumption or demanding that women wear burqas, do you? Why then should people with different or no religious beliefs be denied the choice to use contraceptives or have same sex marriages (or at least get legal benefits and protection)?

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