Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thanks to Carlos Celdran we know who Santo Papa Damaso was!

I would agree with many that the Revised Penal Code's Article 133 on "offending religious feelings" may sound archaic. It may have to be reworded. The code punishes disruption of worship services which offends the congregation  with a prison term. Carlos Celdran, history tour guide par excellance was meted out with a jail term for raising a "Damaso" sign inside the Roman Catholic cathedral of Manila during an ecumenical service on the Bible attended by Catholic priests and bishops and clergy of non Catholic churches.

Celdran makes history by being the first person to be convicted under the statute although in 1934 a suit was brought before the courts on claimed offense to religious feelings involving a local Roman Catholic congregation celebrating a para liturgical "pabasa" and  property owners who built a barbed wire fence around the chapel. The court acquitted the persons who put up the fence.

The Penal Code punishes crimes against religious worship in the same title of crimes against the fundamental laws of the State, which includes the Bill of Rights.

As the Penal Code has it, the statutes just protects the basic civil rights which includes crimes against peaceful assembly which may not be disrupted unless with court warrant.

It is a stretch of credulity to say that the Trial Court's judgement against Celdran is an affront to freedom of expression and more incredulous to even think that it involves a clerical conspiracy to charge Celdran with blasphemy under Canon Law in the guise of the Civil Law . Any college student who has taken Political Science 101 knows that freedom of expression has its limits. Freedom of Worship too has its limits and in the United States, the courts have determined limits. For example, human sacrifice in the guise of religious worship is a criminal act in any jurisdiction.

Let me demolish the blasphemy argument. The civil courts cannot charge Celdran with blasphemy. The Church can't either and the irony is that "|Damaso" was at first seen as something commemorating Pope Damasus I, a 3rd century Pope who promoted the Bible in its Latin translation by encouraging St Jerome to make this famous translation.

Quite appropriate for a service celebrating Bible translations, don't you think!

The funny thing is it took the Roman Catholic bishops at the service a bit of a time to get what Celdran meant until some Protestant clergy attending the service told them what Celdran was up to!

If we are into more hilarity, no one can beat the Filipino Freethinkers here! I need not say more. Rizal has been used for many purposes from the sublime, the Divine and the dumb!

Hey, don 't forget  Pope St Damasus!
Freedom of worship is a right that has to be protected as well as freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, the issue must be seen in terms of the State guaranteeing freedom of worship for all. The State can only determine offence to "religious feelings" and not theology which it has not the competency to do so. The penal code provision also requires the offence should be in a "place devoted to religious worship" and that the act must be "notorious". The above pic has the Mother of Perpetual Help icon and where do you place icons? Answer: in sacred spaces, places of religious worship!

The Congress has seen not it fit to put into statute a law implementing religious liberty. It just let the Supreme Court determine the limits of religious freedom. The Supremes have given wide latitude to this protection even allowing the Jehovah's Witnesses not to salute the Flag (contrary to the secular principle) which is offensive to secular feelings!

Take note that the State doesn't limit the airing of contrary views as long it does not ruin reputations or incites to people to violence. Celdran could have "fenced" the property line of the Cathedral with "Damaso" signs and he would not be in this situation at all. Of course the authorities may regulate how this can be done since the State has ensure a peaceful society.

The instinctive reaction of "progressives" is to defend freedom of expression. But all these civil rights are linked, restrict freedom of worship, you can be sure that expression will follow.

And since I defend freedom of expression like Celdran, I will defend freedom of worship and if Celdran's relativistic idea of "freedom" gets  skewered, so be it.

No comments: