Neophyte senator Robin Padilla filed a bill aiming to guarantee religious freedom in educational institutions and protect the beliefs of the students.

Padille filed Senate Bill 1609 or the proposed Protection of Students’ Religious Belief Act to provide students the “liberty to disassociate and excuse themselves from participating in any religious classes and activities that interfere with his religious tenets or faith without the fear of expulsion, sanction, or reprimand.”

“Over the years, there have been accounts of how educational institutions fall short, if not totally fail, in distinguishing students by the basis of religion and similarly, prescribing religious classes in their curriculum that are offered to all students in general,” Padilla wrote in his explanatory note.

“However, the problem arises when students are compelled to enroll in religious classes and attend academic activities that interfere with their religious tenets and practices. Without the discretion to exclude themselves or exemption from these religious classes, students are inclined to practice and engage in religious beliefs different from their faith,” he added.

Padilla cited the Supreme Court jurisprudence in the case of Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Inc. v. Office of the Secretary in July 2003, which stated that freedom of religion is “designed to protect the broadest possible livery of conscience, to allow each man to believe as his conscience directs, to profess his beliefs, and to live as he believes he ought to live, consistent with the liberty of others and with the common good.”

He explained that the SC ruling emphasized two important facets: freedom to believe  and the freedom to act on one’s beliefs.

Under the said bill, educational institutions should make sure that all students are not discriminated against on account of their religious belief, affiliation, or engagement in any religious activity; shall respect every student’s right to express or wear their religious clothing inside the campus or during school-related activities outside the school premises; shall be prohibited from requiring students to participate and attend any religious activity or their performance.

SB 1609 also mandates that no student shall be required to be taught with, to be enrolled in, or to take a religious value, lesson, subject, or course different from his or her religion without the written consent of the student.

Under the proposed law, violators will pay a fine of P500,000 and/or suffer imprisonment of not less than six years. 

 

Ronald Espartinez