Being Right

It seems bizarre to need to say it but bizarre seems to be the norm nowadays. Anyway, here it is: religious freedom is a fundamental constitutionally protected right.

So much so that the Supreme Court — despite the liberal progressive demand that people think otherwise — declared that “the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Constitutions were crafted in full acknowledgment of the contributions of religion to the country.”

Yet, religion is under attack, being seen as a stubborn obstacle to those seeking to advance ideological agenda that unfortunately and conceivably could destroy the culture, values, traditions, and institutions that made our society free, dynamic, and human.

Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Fagan (Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability; January 1996) found that the best response to societal problems, such as “violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency” is to heed the “positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion.”

Thus, studies show that religion:

• strengthens the family and marital happiness, with spouses less likely to divorce or separate;

• helps poor persons out of poverty;

• helps the youth develop moral formation and sound moral judgment, and have better relationships with their parents;

• lessens the possibility of and hastens recovery for persons falling into problems such as suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce;

• has beneficial effects on physical and mental health, longevity, self-esteem, and greater family, and marital happiness; and

• makes people more optimistic and set realistic goals about their futures.

The Supreme Court, in various cases, defines “religion” as: a “profession of faith to an active power that binds and elevates man to his Creator.” Or “has reference to one’s views of his relations to His Creator and to the obligations they impose of reverence to His being and character and obedience to His Will.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court does go on to say that, with a nod to US jurisprudence, religion may include “non-theistic beliefs.”

However, for purposes of this article and the legislation proposed below, “religion” here means not only the a) profession of faith but also b) the exercise of faith within the context of an established organization, c) with rules as to membership, d) a core set of beliefs, stories, or tradition embodied in existing literature (or holy “scripture”), and e) with defined rituals for both individual or communal practice.

The Supreme Court also fleshed out the protections under the Constitution’s Article III. 5, provided the following are complied with: existence of compelling State interest in interfering with religious rights, sincerity of the believer regarding such beliefs (here, the Supreme Court noted that “only beliefs rooted in religion are protected by the Free Exercise Clause, secular beliefs, however sincere and conscientious, do not suffice”), and the measure chosen is the least intrusive on such religions.

To expressly concretize the various protections surrounding the religious rights and freedoms in the Constitution and as illustrated by the Supreme Court jurisprudentially, the following law protecting religious freedom is proposed.

This proposed law, admittedly getting inspiration from the RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Acts) experiences in the US, seeks to:

1. Protect a person’s or religious institution’s religious beliefs or freedoms from being restricted or likely burdened by government (“person” herein defined to include any corporation or legal entity whose corporate values or policies expressly conform to a religion’s beliefs);

2. Protect a person’s or religious institution’s right to preach, teach, publish, or otherwise express or apply such religious beliefs in the public square, schools, or as organizational policy;

3. Protect a person or religious institution from having its property likely restricted or likely burdened by government in a manner contrary to that person’s or religious institution’s religious beliefs or freedoms;

4. Entitle persons or religious institutions to employ their religious beliefs as basis of their claim or defense in a suit brought by any individual or entity (government or private) before any administrative or judicial tribunal;

5. Provide remedies ranging from compensation to prohibitions or mandamus. However, this proposed law is not intended to provide a cause of action against any private employer or academic institution by any applicant, employee, or former employee (instead, laws specific to labor or academe will apply);

6. Declare and provide that no religious speech, expression, or publication shall be considered “hate speech” unless such violates the “clear and present danger” standard; and

7. Provide, finally, that all the protections mentioned above applies even for laws of general application, except if: a) such law is intended to further a clear and defined compelling State interest; and b) is the least restrictive means of furthering such clear and defined compelling State interest.

Considering the times, the foregoing suggested law is urgently needed to protect a true and fundamental right against the horde of faux or made-up rights that media, academics, politicians, and various ideologues seek to impose on every Filipino of good faith.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula