Journalists are constantly reminded that when parachuting into unfamiliar territory, they must always observe and respect local cultural sensibilities.

In some countries not far from the Philippines, there are “religious” police who arrest people, mostly foreign tourists, who show disrespect to the local culture by merely dressing up and showing public affection by holding hands or kissing.

These practices are offensive to the local culture where most adult women cover themselves from head to foot.

Perhaps, the Philippines is the most tolerant place in the world. It has no religious police who may strike with a cane or arrest those who had offended the local population’s Christian, more specifically Roman Catholic, faith.

Recently, a drag performer, Pura Luka Vega, stirred up a hornet’s nest by sharing a snippet of her performance, lip-syncing the “Lord’s Prayer” while dressed up as the Black Nazarene, a very popular Jesus Christ icon in the country.

Millions of Roman Catholic devotees flock every year, on January 9, to the Minor Basilica and Shrine of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo to pay homage to the miraculous wooden icon of Jesus Christ.

It was difficult to explain to the outside world the Filipinos’ extreme devotion to the Black Nazarene.

Thus, two days after the drag performance posted a video on Twitter, it went viral, but was quickly condemned by devout Roman Catholics as blasphemous.

Roman Catholic priest Jerome Secilliano, head of the Public Affairs Ministry for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), did not find the drag performance tasteful.

Commenting on Pura Luka Vega’s controversial “Ama Namin” drag show, the priest said the snippet of the song-and-dance and the costume is “completely disrespectful not only of people and institutions practicing such faith but of God Himself.”

Pura Luka Vega had offended the practicing Roman Catholic faithful.

Lawmakers were quick to condemn the drag performance, with Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urging ,authorities to throw the book at Pura Luka Vega for violating the Revised Penal Code on offending “any race or religion in the performance of obscene or indecent plays, scenes, acts or shows in theaters, fairs, or any other place.”

Bataan congresswoman Geraldine Roman, an openly transgender lawmaker, did not like the performance, reminding the LGBTQIA+ community about freedom of expression not being absolute, and that Pura Luka Vega’s performance did not help in the community’s struggle to gain acceptance and equality.

But some sectors defended the drag performance as an expression of art. Pura Luka Vega also refused to take down the Twitter post, arguing the performance was not intended to offend Roman Catholic faithful and that the song-and-dance number was her own way of expressing her faith.

Whatever the excuses the drag performer and those defending her, the singing and dancing to the tune of a sacred and biblical prayer was offensive and inappropriate.

Pura Luka Vega had overstepped her boundaries. She should make a public apology and take down the video from social media.

Her defense of expressing her own faith was a lame excuse. She knew it was wrong, inappropriate and offensive. There were other proper ways to express her own devotion to Jesus Christ.

Pura Luka Vega should have considered the religious sensibilities of the majority of Filipino Christians, particularly Roman Catholics who are devotees of the Black Nazarene.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ always hide behind human rights when their inappropriate actions are questioned.

Even if the LGBTQIA+ community in the country always complain of discrimination and inequality, the LGBTQIA+ members enjoy more freedom and their rights are respected in the Philippines more than in any other country in this part of the world.

They must not be treated as special members of the community and there should be no laws giving them special attention and treatment in society.

In the United States, for instance, the Supreme Court had, time and time again, upheld religious liberty over LGBTQIA+ rights.

For many years, even centuries, faith has been expressed in many forms of arts – painting, sculpture, music, plays, movies and other visual arts.

But there was nothing offensive and distasteful. There were a few movies made in Hollywood that were banned from showing because the film had offended religious sensibilities, like the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988.

There had been too many examples in the past that should have guided artists and performers to avoid controversies.

Pura Luka Vega should have avoided donning a Black Nazarene costume and avoided performing a sacred and biblical prayer.

If she was indeed a believer of Christ, she should have shown reverence to Jesus Christ and think about how most Roman Catholic faithful would feel and say about her drag performance.

Perhaps, she really wanted a viral and controversial video, and she got what she wanted. But, at what price?