Monday, September 29, 2008

Separation of Church and State: What does "Separation" Really Mean and Why RH Bill Supporters Don't Understand what it Really Means

The supporters of the RH Bill in the media and in Congress often cite “Separation of Church and State” in order to muzzle the opposition of the Catholic Church. But do they really believe in their own propaganda? Apparently, they are using this principle only for their own ends. This only shows that the supporters of the RH Bill are cynical and manipulative.

While defending the RH Bill, Rep. Janette Garin said that the opinion and support of the Iglesia ni Cristo is important for the Bill. This admission was recorded in many newspapers and can easily be found in the Internet.

One of the Philippine media’s most rabid supporters of the RH Bill and one of its harshest critics of the Catholic Church, Anne Marie Pamintuan of the Philippine Star, said in her column for September 22, 2008, Monday, that:

“Maybe women should join the Iglesia Ni Cristo, which is supporting the bill. And will someone ever file a case questioning violations of the constitutionally enshrined principle of separation of church and state?”

In two sentences, this vociferous critic of the Catholic Church calls upon women to join the Iglesia Ni Cristo because it supports the RH Bill. At the same time, she calls on people to drag the Catholic Church to court.

Wait a minute! We thought that these people are against any Church “meddling” in legislative and state matters? Obviously, this meddling is “bad” only when it goes against the preferences of certain politicians and of certain media people. The Iglesia Ni Cristo is praised because it supports the RH Bill while the Roman Catholic Church is condemned and spat upon by these pro-RH people because it opposes the Bill.

It is clear that these people do not really care about the so-called principle of “Separation of Church and State.” What they simply want is to terrorize the Catholic Church and make it comply with their beliefs. To this end, they will support a church that does what they themselves will consider as “meddling” if that church supports them. Thus, they praise the INC, with its legendary viciousness against Catholicism and its reliable support for artificial contraception.

In their fight for the passage of the RH Bill, not a few of this Bill’s supporters have, once more, invoked the “Separation of Church and State” in order to muzzle the Catholic Church’s opposition to the RH bill. According to these people, the Catholic Church is violating the principle of the Separation of Church and State by daring to speak out against the Bill.

As we shall see, the supporters of the RH Bill are, in fact, very ignorant of what the “Separation Clause” really means.
  • What Separation of Church and State really means is that the State does not have any State or “Established Church”, it does not subsidize the Church or pay the salary of its clergy, and that no Church has any official access to the instruments of State power (e.g. it cannot use the armed forces to fight other churches or to enforce its beliefs and practices on citizens).
  • Furthermore, in the Philippine legal and constitutional context, the Separation clause has its origins in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which states that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

(Take note: the phrase “Separation of Church and State” can never be found anywhere in the US Constitution)

As a US Congressional Report noted in 1854, “What is an establishment of religion? It must have a creed, defining what a man must believe; it must have rites and ordinances, which believers must observe; it must have ministers of defined qualifications, to teach doctrines and administer the rites; it must have tests for the submissive and penalties for the non-conformist…” (cited in p. 31 of David Barton’s “The Myth of Separation”; Aledo, Texas, Wallbuilder Press, 1992). In short, in a true situation of Union of Church and State, the State will force its citizens to adhere to a particular Church, with punishments for those who do not want to conform. Where there are no such penalties, there is no question of an “Established Church”

In modern times, the Establishment clause has been broadened to include the non-use of government property or funds in order to promote the beliefs of a particular Church or religion. Nevertheless, the principle that no Church must be established by the state has never been understood to mean that no one has the right to speak out in public in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.

In short, the Separation of Church and State was established in order to prevent the government from forcing a particular church down the throats of its citizens, and from encroaching upon the rights of the Church. It was established in order to protect the Churches, not the State.

All of these conditions continue to apply to the Philippines, which has no “state religion”, which does not subsidize the Catholic Church or pay the salaries of its priests, which does not require classes in Catholic beliefs in public schools, and which has no provision for forcing non-Catholics to follow Catholic beliefs and practices at gunpoint. Indeed, non-Catholics churches and religions also have a strong voice in the affairs of state and have considerable public influence in the Philippines. Therefore there is true separation of Church and State in the Philippines.

  • Separation of Church and State does NOT mean that Church officials cannot speak or try to influence state policy. In a democratic republic, any citizen has the right and duty to use his influence and moral suasion in order to persuade the government to take a particular course of action. Since Church officials are citizens, they continue to have the right to speak out in favor of their beliefs, as long as they use purely moral, non-violent and legal means of expressing these beliefs. This is what the CBCP does. Its members are only exercising their rights under the Constitution, and they have certainly not resorted to violent means.
  • Separation of Church and State does not mean that Catholics are required to leave their religious beliefs in their private life, and that they should act like they have no Catholic beliefs at all in the public square. To force Catholics to think and act like they are not Catholics, outside the confines of their private lives, is plain and simple discrimination. In the final analysis, to require Catholics to abandon their religious and moral beliefs in matters of public policy is the same as requiring these Catholics to believe that their religious beliefs are not really true. After all, if you believe that something is true, you will stick to it anywhere and everywhere and in all things, and not just in your private life. The supporters of the RH Bill, in attacking the defenders of the pro-life position for upholding their Catholic beliefs, are in effect attacking the congressional defenders of the pro-life position for having the guts to stick to their moral and religious convictions. This is absurd! In any democracy, it should be expected that people will stick to their moral convictions and make decisions according to their conscience!

  • Furthermore, if we are going to condemn the Catholic Church for violating the separation of Church and State by speaking out against the Bill, then why should Islam and the INC not be accused of committing the same violation when these support the Bill? After all, if speaking out on a proposed Bill in Congress is a form of interference in State matters, then it does not matter whether a church speaks out FOR or AGAINST the Bill; what matters is that the said church spoke ABOUT the Bill. If the Catholic Church is to be condemned for violating the separation of Church and State, then Islam and the INC should be charged guilty of the same violation.

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