Tuesday, September 01, 2015

42. Freedom of Religion

In 1633, Pope Urban VIII had Galileo declared a heretic and imprisoned for professing that the world revolves around the sun. Today in the Philippines, considering that we have the Freedom of Religion clause in the Constitution, Galileo could profess his view or even the opposite view, i. e., it's the sun revolving around the world, and the State could care less. Galileo would be a free man. The Freedom of Religion Clause in the Constitution guarantees two things: 1) The State will not establish a religion; and 2) The State will not interfere in the practice of any religion. In Galileo's era, Catholicism was a state religion. Thus, if one professed a belief contrary to  Catholic doctrines, it was equivalent to a crime against the State, for which one could be punished and sent to jail. This would not work today, because under the first guarantee, Freedom of Religion ensures that there is no state religion, and no religion can receive special favors, funding, or endorsements from the State. Neither can any religion receive any burden or punishment from the State for being a religion. Galileo could even believe that there is no god, and the State wouldn't mind. To the State, what Galileo does with his soul, is his business, and the State has no business with souls. I don't know if Galileo kept his Catholic faith, but he if did not, and instead he established for himself the Church of the Sun Worshippers that would have been fine with modern day Philippines. This is the second guarantee under the Freedom of Religion, known as the Free Exercise Clause. Galileo could propagate his view, write his bible, develop his church rituals, and create a code of conduct. The State would not touch him. Galileo could even refuse to salute the flag if that was contrary to his religion, and the Supreme Court would be constrained to uphold his right to do so, as it did in one case, known as Ebralinag vs. Division Superintendent of Schools of Cebu (GR No. 95770, March 1, 1993). Yet, if you're wondering whether the Free Exercise Clause would protect a religion that uses kidnapping and violence against church members and non-church members, the answer is of course not. Freedom of Religion is not a license to trample with the law.  The limits and bounds of this Free Exercise Clause are defined by its effect on other people's rights. Accordingly, if Galileo's theoretical Church of the Sun Worshippers would require human sacrifice as a ritual, Galileo is going to jail. Yet, the Supreme Court would swing in favor of upholding the right when balanced with some other value. In a relatively recent case (Estrada vs. Escritor, AM No. P-02-1651, June 22, 2006) the Supreme Court said that living-in with a married man, if it is sanctioned by one's faith, would not amount to immorality, and consequently not a ground for dismissal from government service. So, if the Church of the Sun Worshippers profess the doctrine of free love, regardless of marital status, the Supreme Court would not find that immoral. I don't know if Galileo would have welcomed that too. Yet, one thing is for sure,  if Galileo were alive today and living in this country, he would have been a happy man. With our Freedom of Religion and other freedoms, he could be our ambassador to all the people in the world today persecuted for their religious beliefs, saying come all ye faithful and ye faithless, it's more fun ..!

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