The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) came out with A Pastoral Letter and A Call to Prayer on July 16 appealing to the Filipinos to pray for the country because of the threat of abuses to freedom due to the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 3. This letter was read in the churches on July 19. Immediately,  Chief Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo alleged that this is a breach of separation of church and state.  That such comments should come from a presidential legal adviser at that, is beyond belief! Or is it just another empty threat and harassment that the minions of this government are wont to use?

Whenever church leaders criticize government programs and practices, people  use the argument of separation of church and state to discredit them. What really is this separation of church and state provision in the constitution?

The mother provision is found in Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution, which states – – “The separation of Church & State shall be inviolable.”

This principle is given eight specific provisions in the constitution:

  1. The government is prohibited from establishing its own religion (Art III, Sec 5)
  2. The government is prohibited from prohibiting the free exercise of any religion (Art III, Sec 5)
  3. The government is prohibited from giving or showing any preference to or discrimination against any religion (Art III, Sec 5)
  4. The government is prohibited from using any “religious test” for the exercise of any civil or political rights (Art III, Sec 5)
  5. Churches, convents, mosques, and all their lands, buildings, improvements that are actually, directly and exclusively used for religious purposes are exempt from taxation (Art VI, Sec 28, par 3)
  6. The government is prohibited from appropriating and using any public money or property for the direct or indirect use, benefit or support of any religion, church, priest, pastor or imam (Art VI, Sec 29, par 2)
  7. The government is prohibited from registering as political party any religious denominations or sects (Art IX, Part C, Section 2[5])
  8. The government is prohibited from teaching religion as mandatory in public schools. Religion shall be only allowed to be taught in public schools if the parents give their consent in writing (Art XIV, Sec 3[3])

All of the prohibitions are directed to the government.  It is the government that is prohibited from meddling with religious activities.  Since congress has not passed any law to further give other provisions, these are the only instances for the provision of the separation of church and state.  As we can see, all the provisions are addressed to the state and not to the church.  Never does the constitution prohibit church people, especially if they are citizens of the land, from participating in the life of the government nor to speak for or against the government. Church people too, as citizens, have the inviolable right to freedom of speech.

In the Catholic Church, though, we also follow another law which we call Canon Law. Here the lay faithful are enjoined to actively participate in politics and are mandated to bring Gospel values to all aspects of life, including politics. The clergy, being shepherds of all the faithful who may belong to opposing political parties, are enjoined not to be partisan in political affairs in the sense of belonging to one particular political party. Canon Law, however, does not prevent the clergy to educate the faithful by speaking the truth and pointing out what is evil. Pope Francis clearly wrote: “The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (Evangelii Gaudium #182)

As pastors of the people of God, bishops and priests cannot be remiss in guiding the flock, even in the socio-political spheres. This is why we have the Catholic Social Teachings, which is an essential part of the Christian message, because it tells us the social implications of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Broderick Pabillo
July 21, 2020

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