Respecting religious freedom starts with tolerance and understanding

Published January 26, 2023, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Compared to other countries or nationalities, Filipinos generally enjoy a sense of freedom when it comes to their choice of religion. As a predominantly Catholic country (more than 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholics), there are other thriving religious sects such as Islam, Buddhism, Adventist, etc. Each Filipino, therefore, can exercise, announce, or propagate his or her faith without fear of discrimination or reproach.    

Even with this scenario, there are still reports of discrimination rooted in religion. An employee is bypassed for promotion because he or she may not share the same religion with the employer; a person is shamed online for demonstrating his religious rituals; or a school is forcing a policy that favors one religion over the other. Though isolated in some cases, these are sources of tension and disagreements that may disturb societal peace and harmony.    

To address this situation — and more importantly, to protect the right of people to freedom of religion — the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved on the third and final reading House Bill 6492, or the proposed “Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Act” last Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. 

Generally, the proposed Magna Carta seeks to “prohibit the government or any person to burden, curtail, impinge, or encroach on a person’s right to exercise his or her religious belief, freedom, and liberty of conscience.” 

Congressman Bienvenido Abante Jr. of the sixth district of Manila, author of the measure, said that “right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in the Constitution, which states that free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.” The House bill strengthens this Constitutional provision, with the proposed Magna Carta also ensuring that “the government must also prohibit any act by a person, natural or juridical, or any group of persons that burdens or encroaches on the said right.” 

“The free exercise of religious freedom would only be denied, regulated, or curtailed if it results in violence or inflicts direct or indirect physical harm or danger on other people, or infringes on their own freedom of religion or conscience; and if it is necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, property and good morals,” the bill stated. 

Other notable features of this Magna Carta is how it also includes educational institutions and businesses. In fact, House Bill 6492 protects 12 rights, which includes “the right to freedom against discrimination in educational institutions, the right against discrimination in employment; the right to religious worship and ceremonies; the right of companies or businesses to be founded on religious belief; the right of parents or legal guardians to rear children; the right to tax exemption, etc.”  To put it simply, no one can be denied employment (or be terminated) solely on the basis of religion or adherence to religious beliefs. 

While we welcome this proposed bill, there are underlying issues when it comes to discrimination and persecution. Choice of religion may be one of them but there are also economic causes, as poverty breeds inequality, ignorance, and insensitivity. A nation must raise citizens that are tolerant and understanding since, after all, the Philippines is made up of a diverse group of people with different beliefs and values. Tolerance is key and to cultivate it starts with providing everyone access to universal human rights.