Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Wall of Separation"

This is a hot issue that has bothered me for quite sometime. Iglesia ni Cristo's (INC) misplaced invocation of the principle of separation of church and state has been pinching at my “constitutional” nerves like the devil’s pitchfork, challenging me to write my thoughts down. Contrary to popular belief, I have said it before in my Facebook post and I say it again here, this doctrine came into being in order to protect the Church from undue intrusion by the state, NOT VICE VERSA.

The provision (Article 2, Section 6) in “The Declaration of Principles and State Policies” under the 1987 Constitution that says that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable is no more than a flagship provision for non-establishment: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”If one would carefully examine the text of the Constitution, the thrust of the principle is strictly geared towards the state and not the church. In other words, the “wall of separation” is a limitation directed upon the State and its institutions, primarily Congress. The non-establishment clause found in the Bill of Rights undoubtedly cautions the state not to pass laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” In this sense, the Church, therefore, cannot violate the separation because it cannot pass laws other than church laws or policies. The Church and its minions, of course, cannot dictate state law or policy; but this does not mean that the Church shall have nothing to say on the conduct of government. The bottom line, said a noted Filipino constitutionalist, is that “neither side may legislate for the other.” (Bernas, 1999)

This is my understanding of what separation of church and state is all about. Apparently, INC’s invocation of the principle is inapplicable in the present scenario.

When DOJ Secretary De Lima ordered an investigation on the alleged kidnapping of Samson, who has filed a serious illegal detention complaint against several INC leaders, she acted within the bounds of law and not because she favored or preferred one religion over another. If it were the other way around, she would be violating the Constitution as her actions would be construed as “state action” under the law. In simple terms, if De Lima would ignore the criminal complaint would give others- those not belonging or no longer belonging in this flock- a valid cause to raise this separation doctrine. The idea that she might have violated the “wall of separation” seemed far-fetched because what is involved is a possible violation of the Revised Penal Code, and the parties happened to be citizens of the Philippines and not as flocks of a cultish congregation.

The better view, however, is to examine the issue from a different angle: the INC’s battlecry of separation of church and state is nothing more than a short-hand expression of freedom of speech, and to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Though these fundamental rights of the people are guaranteed by no less than the Constitution, the exercise of these rights are not absolute for it may be so regulated that it shall not be injurious to the equal enjoyment of others having equal rights, nor injurious to the rights of the community or society. (Primicias v. Fugoso)

Photo credit: CNN Philippines

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