Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Banning religious symbols in a country with NO SPACE for the secular

Christmas party pooper Raymond Palatino seeks to ban this religious symbol in UP's Lantern Parade!
The Honourable Raymond Palatino, Member of the Philippine Congress wants religious symbols out of public view especially in government offices and agencies. This is a copycat move and foreign import from the secular West, especially Europe. As a foreign import, it is totally alien to Filipino culture, Christian, Lumad, Muslim etc and MUST BE OPPOSED.

Filipinos are a nation of people with a faith tradition who support the separation of Church and State. Why? It is because they believe the separation of Church and State protects their freedoms, most especially of worship. This freedom of worship guarantees religious pluralism and the tolerance of most Filipinos to the diversity of beliefs. The Filipino as a Roman Catholic bishop once said, is "most ecumenical".

An good friend of mine, an American Episcopal priest who has spent his whole priestly life in missions in the Philippines and Asia told me that "there is no space for the secular" in the Philippines. Even the secular is expressed  in religious terms.

An example is the "godless" and state funded University of the Philippines in Diliman where there are two churches, both architecturally distinctive, always packed to the rafters with students, especially during exam week.  In December, the "secular" lantern parade is filled with representations of, and religious symbols called "Stars of Bethelehem" a.k.a. "parol". Palatino would be the greatest Christmas party pooper in the universe if he succeeds. What is Christmas without "parol"?

In probably one of his most significant lectures, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams reflected on the Magna Carta, which is the foundation document of civil liberties in England and America and through America, ours. Here Dr Williams argues that religion is the strongest motive to protect liberty since it defends the dignity of the human person, especially the most disadvantaged in society. Thus it should not be banished from the public sphere lest we lose all of our liberties.

Dr Williams concludes

"The public acknowledgment of religious freedom is the opposite of theocracy; rightly understood – as Lord Acton argued – it is a key to the full-blooded defence of pluralism and accountability, not some sort of concession to obstinate prejudice."

In a country whose people value these religious symbols, these symbols exist for the good of society. The jurisprudence of this country puts a high value to the freedom of worship and religious minorities like the Jehovah's Witnesses have been protected. They are not required to salute the symbols of the state like the flag since this violates their religious beliefs. What applies to a minority like them applies too to the majority Roman Catholic Church and even to atheists and freethinkers. Palatino's bill is aimed at the Roman Catholic Church. This has to be made clear. 

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