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Religious leaders should speak without fear of reprisal — US diplomat

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RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS should be able to speak freely on the actions of government without fear of reprisal, United States (US) Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel D. Brownback said on Tuesday amid President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s continued verbal attack on the Catholic Church.

“It is key that everybody, and this includes religious leaders, have the ability to speak freely without the fear of reprisal about what a government is doing,” he said in a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday when sought for comment on the issue.

“And I know as a former governor and senator myself, a number of people are very critical of the things I said. Some were people of faith that were critical of what I would say or do. That is their right and prerogative and it should be protected. It shouldn’t matter whether or not they’re a religious person,” he added.

Mr. Duterte has been critical to the Catholic Church and its leaders and has lashed out at priests and bishops whom he accused of being involved in corruption and sexual harassment.




In a speech last December, the President, who has claimed to have been molested by a priest when he was a student, vowed to continue his attacks until the religious institution “corrects itself.” He also called on priests not to use the “platform of religion” to criticize him.

Catholic Church leaders have continuously opposed the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and condemned the thousands of killings it has caused.

Priests who have been vocally critical of the government’s drug policies said they have received death threats in recent weeks. Malacañang, however, has denied that the administration was behind the threats against the Catholic clergy.

Mr. Brownback on Tuesday also highlighted that those in the faith communities were often the ones who speak up for those “in the most difficult situation in society,” such as the hungry and the poor.

He noted that these were “the voices that we should listen to, not try to thwart.”

“They have that right to speak their mind freely, and that’s part of what makes for an open and vibrant discussion in a society, that there’s no fear of reprisal. And there shouldn’t be fear of reprisal for a religious institution, if they are concerned about a particular situation in the country,” he said.

Mr. Brownback is in Taiwan to have a two-day dialogue with civil society organizations on the state of religious freedom in the Indo-Pacific region.

He said religious freedom is a high priority of the Trump administration, reiterating the US’ commitment to push for the foundational human right “for a better chance of economic growth and less terrorism” in countries. — Camille A. Aguinaldo