Print Version    Email to Friend
The Ban God Bill versus religious freedom?

MANILA (Agencies) : A proposed bill that may come before the congress seeking to impose a ban on holding religious ceremonies and displaying religious symbols in government offices under the banner of religious freedom is contrary to a constitutional provision that guarantees freedom of religion, Father Melvin Castro, from the Commission on Family and Life said on June 20.

“There should be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. There should be no establishment of a state religion and no limits placed on the exercise of religion,” Father Castro said.

Raymond Palatino, Kabataan Partylist representative, is claiming that displaying religious symbols and holding ceremonies in and around public offices gives the impression that the government lacks neutrality, as a justification for the filing of House Bill 6330.

The Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, which has been referred to by some as the Ban God Bill, would prohibit the display of religious symbols and the conducting 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 would place responsibility on heads of offices and departments to strictly implement the constitutional provisions on religious freedom in government offices.

“The religion of the minority ought to be respected, too. In a democracy, the rights of the minority should be protected also,” Palatino, who fancies himself as a representative of young people, said on the morning television show, Umagang Kay Ganda, on June 19.

He added that people of different faiths drop by government offices and go there not to affirm their spiritual beliefs, but to carry out transactions with the government.

“So not all religious icons are acceptable. That’s why the government has to be neutral,” he explained.

But Father Castro pointed out that leaders do not impose the display of religious symbols in government offices, explaining that it is individual employees who make this decision.

He described referring to the Palatino bill as promoting religious freedom as contradictory, saying that it only curtails freedom of religious expression.

Father Castro described the placing of symbols in offices is an expression of individuals, adding that piety is part and parcel of our humanity.

“In this proposed bill, we are pushing away God. It is impossible to dichotomise a person, in which one part is a faithful practitioner of his religion and another separate part is a citizen of the republic. It is like we’re trying to divide a person’s humanity,” he 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 by seeming to favour one particular religion,” Palatino was quoted by CBCP News as saying.

However, Father Castro is not convinced, saying, “We don’t see a need to enact such a law.”

The Philippine constitution provides that “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 (Article 3: Sec 5).

Joy Candelario, former head of the Youth Desk of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences–Office of Laity and Family, described the bill as asking Catholics who work in government to refrain from personal religious expression, something highly unnatural for a predominantly Catholic country like The Philippines.

“It is like asking someone to take off their clothes,” she added.

Nevertheless, she said that she would more readily support a bill promoting equality among different religions.

Father Castro said that the placing of symbols in offices is an expression of individuals, adding that piety is part and parcel of our humanity