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Offending secular feelings (updated)


The conviction of Carlos Celdran on the Philippines Revised Penal Code article 133 “Crimes against religious worship” for "offending religious feelings” has led to some asking if there is such a thing as “offending secular feelings”.

The answer is both a “yes” and a “no” depending on what angle you look at it. It is a qualified “yes” if the secularists (and the Freethinkers) say their position is based on faith and therefore is under the constitutional provisions on religious liberty.

The answer is a qualified “no” if the secularists insist theirs is not a religious position and so they should have a thicker skin with respect to offensive ideas since much of the perceived offence is in the secular sphere, considered as protected speech (unless it incites to violence) and the laws on defamation and libel should offer enough redress of grievance and protection.

Like in Roman Catholicism or any other religious tradition for that matter, there are adherents with a diversity of opinions. The same is true for secularists. There are secularists who hold to an objective basis for secular ideas and there are those who hold to a more relativist position.

Thus the quandary on what constitutes offensive to religious or even secular feelings really is!

However if we look at the arguments presented by lawyers and what the courts have said about it like decisions on the religious liberties of minority congregations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses , we can infer that there is really offence to secular "feelings", especially if these secular "feelings" have something to do with people’s national identity. For instance the Philippine Supreme Court in 1993 upheld the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses not to salute the Philippine Flag on grounds of religious conscience. In 1996, the Supremes also gave exemptions to PH marriage laws to the Witnesses again on grounds of religious conscience.

The Supremes have implicitly established a principle. Religious liberties are protected more.  The reason is that is implied is that the majority of the Filipino people hold to a religious tradition and that reflects on the Constitution which they ratified  within their power as the sovereign  in a republican state. The Supremes have interpreted the secularism of the Constitution as “benevolent to religion” even it does not establish a religion. This is consistent to what the American Supremes said as

 "The Founding Fathers of the United States viewed religion as special" and thus has a positive role to play in the common good of society.  Thus benevolent neutrality respects the role of religion in promoting harmony among citizens of the State. The State according to one Supreme would rather intrude into questions of philosophy of science rather than the theology of religious groups. 

Thus the argument of UP Law Professor Florin Hilbay thus falls flat.   The overarching basis  of Professor Hilbay's arguments is that the Philippine Constitution is secular in intent (true) and hostile to religion (false).

While he states the the duties of the State in protecting free speech, Professor Hilbay fails to state what are the duties of the State in protecting religious worship and expression. Should it be just limited to letting religious organizations exist and to assemble in their places of worship? Or should the State guarantee the freedom to worship of citizens to worship in peace within the walls of their temples?

The American Supremes have said that if a law does not particularly target a specific religious practice, then it doesn't violate then non establishment of religion clause unless there is compelling interest. Is Celdran's conviction within the "compelling interest" of the State to maintain public order? The lawyers I have corresponded to appear to say yes.

Some minority religious congregations have disrupted other congregations in their "Bible expositions" which is tantamount to disrupting freedom of worship. I have seen these on cable TV a few years back. For me the disruptions are offensive and I am not even a member of that congregation.

None of the aggrieved worshipers filed a suit on grounds of Article 133. I wish they had. These disruptions to religious worship never made it to the pages of blurbs like the Philippine Daily Inquirer since these groups are not in the religious majority and most of their members come from the lower classes. None of the disruptors  or disruptees I saw on cable TV belong to the disparaged and lampooned "conyo" class!

Celdran in his bravado probably never expected that at least one in the multi-faith congregation would be offended and at least one is a Catholic and at least one survived law school and the bar at least one will lodge a suit! It is about time he learns that acts have consequences.

And so we get a conviction whose appeal will get to the Highest Court of the Land. Now whether the Supremes on Padre Faura will rule on upholding Art 133 or not remains to be seen but whatever the outcome will be, it will be a landmark decision on the secular nature of the state.

Professor Hilbay by equating the intent of "crimes against worship" to "crimes against free expression" restates the classic false equivalence characteristic of postmodern relativism. 

And to answer Professor Hilbay's question 

"If Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, the complainant in the case, decided to do a Celdran and raised a Satanist placard in a meeting among secularists and post-theists, those poor evolutionists cannot file a complaint for Offending the Feelings of the Rational and bother the good monsignor with a court case."

The post theists and secularists can, if they organize themselves as a religious organization (which the Constitution guarantees, no questions asked!) and if Monsignor Cerbo does his thing with their place of assembly and worship and this disrupts a  service. (There is one photo in social media of a PH freethinker "congregation" and its "high priest" raising "The Origin of Species" for veneration! If that isn't religion, then I don't know what religion is!). If the good Monsignor does this I bet he will get a Celdran conviction.

What Professor Hilbay should advocate is that we have a law penalizing "hate speech" and this would cover the secularists and religious minded alike in equal measure. Will PH society be ready for this? Germany, Canada and many progressive, secular and tolerant countries have laws criminialising hate speech. Germany is one of the first countries to do so by penalising Nazi propaganda. In many countries in Europe, Nazi "hate speech" is criminalised. Before civil libertarians shout their disagreement, we have to realise the tragic history of Europe in World War II and all of that was based on the excesses of free speech!

The respected constitution expert and Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, Rev Dr Jaoquin Bernas appears to imply that we revisit Art 133 and replace it with a more secular provision. This I agree for it will spare the courts on deciding what is offensive to religion.

Also good argument avoids stereotyping religionists as anti evolutionists or even irrational. This is something that the Supremes can wade into since Darwinian evolution and rationality are not religious dogma!

And so them fact remains. To offend Carlos Celdran's fans is not equivalent to offending secular feelings but to offend the fans' feelings.  In fact, as a person of a religious tradition that upholds secularism, the whole idea of offending secularism is patently ridiculous. That is if like Pope Benedict XVI requests, that one be more logical.








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