Manila, Philippines - A party-list lawmaker is seeking to ban religious symbols and the holding of religious ceremonies in government offices, citing the provisions on freedom of religion in the Constitution.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, in filing a measure titled “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” said his bill seeks to empower heads of offices and departments to strictly follow the constitutional provision on the freedom of religion in the exercise of their official functions, and in the use of government facilities and property.
“The constitutional provision asserts the republican and secular nature of the state, such that although laws could be religious in its deepest roots, it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses,” he said.
Under Section 4 of the bill, religious ceremonies shall not be undertaken within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.
“Religious symbols shall not be displayed within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus,” the measure stated.
Palatino cited Section 5 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
“Recognizing the religious nature of the Filipinos and the elevating influence of religion in society, however, the Philippine Constitution’s religion clauses prescribe not a strict but a benevolent neutrality,” Palatino said.
He said “benevolent neutrality” recognizes that government must pursue its secular goals and interests but at the same time strive to uphold religious liberty to the greatest extent possible within flexible constitutional limits.
“However, despite the clear provisions and jurisprudence on the non-establishment and non-sponsorship of the state of any religion, it has been observed that religious ceremonies and symbols are prominently done or placed, respectively, in several government offices,” the lawmaker said.
He noted that religious ceremonies are also undertaken preparatory to the conduct of state affairs, such as the recital of ecumenical prayers before court hearings, flag ceremonies, government meetings, among others.
“The state cannot be seen to favor one religion over the other, in allowing the prominent conduct and display of religious ceremonies and symbols, respectively, in public offices and property,” Palatino said. - By Paolo Romero (