October 12, 2019
HOUSE Bill 2069, or the “Mandatory Bible Reading Act,” was proposed by Manila Sixth District Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. This bill would have to hurdle major constitutional constraints particularly the principle of the separation of Church and State, and the non-establishment of religion provisions of the Constitution.
Someone asked and I read on Twitter: “Bakit kayong Catholics nagsasign of the cross wala naman nag question sa inyo?” (Why is it that nobody questions you Catholics making the sign of the cross?)
Allowing the citizens to practice their religion is not equivalent to the establishment or fusion of Church and State. While establishment of religion is not allowed in government agencies, “accommodation” of the practice of religion is permissible as held by the Supreme Court in its landmark cases on the matter.
Here are some examples of the government accommodating the practice of religion in government agencies without violating the non-establishment clause of the Constitution:
Our Muslim brethren, who are government employees, are allowed to worship their Allah even during office hours inside their own offices; the Seventh Day Adventists are exempted from rendering Saturday duty because their religion prohibits them from working on a Saturday; even Christians have been allowed to conduct their own bible studies in their own offices; exemption of members of Iglesia ni Cristo from the coverage of a closed shop agreement between their employer and a union; exemption of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from observing the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs; and allowing noontime Masses at the basement of the Quezon City Hall of Justice building for Catholic court employees.
But once government appropriation is used for mandating the practice of a belief or religion as in the case of a law mandating the reading of the Bible in all public schools (and most probably the purchase of Bibles for distribution in the public schools), clearly there is establishment of religion violative of the Constitution.
Public institutions should remain public and therefore secular.
The author is the managing director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (Cocopea, legal counsel of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), Phil. Association of Private Schools, Colleges, and Universities (Papscu), and the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (Papscu). He is the also the corporate secretary and legal counsel of The Manila Times, and managing partner of the Estrada and Aquino Law, Co.
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