So Youth Party-list Representative Raymond Palatino introduced a bill banning religious ceremonies and symbols in government buildings and institutions. Palatino states that his bill:
â€œâ€¦just wants to implement the constitutional provision on freedom of religion where the state should remain neutral and cannot favor any religion. There should be no state-sanctioned religious ceremoniesâ€.
Supporters of the proposed bill such as atheists (Surprise! Surprise!) were quick to praise the proposed bill and treated Palatino as some sort of champion of the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.
My atheist friend Jong Atmosfera presented in his article an opinion by US Supreme Court Justice Black stating:
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â€œThe Establishment Clause, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, does not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not. This is not to say, of course, that laws officially prescribing a particular form of religious worship do not involve coercion of such individuals. When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.â€
The last sentence (emphasis mine), I think, stands out. It can be argued that when financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, such as the case of government facilities being allowed to be used for religious purposes at the expense of taxpayers (Yes I realize that maintenance of the facilities do cost taxpayer money.), I can see why there may be an objection.
But letâ€™s put that angle in perspective. A lot of my atheist friends (and detractors) also support advocacies and freedom of expressions that have been funded in whole or in part by taxpayers or at least meant to be funded in whole or in part by taxpayers once in place.
Remember Mideo Cruz and his art â€œPoleteismoâ€? Yup, this is the artist who exhibited a poster of Jesus Christ with a wooden penis glued to his face. This exhibit was shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and last I heard, the CCP is funded in whole or at least in part by taxpayers. Mideo Cruz was treated as some rock star in the Philippine atheist circles. I donâ€™t remember hearing a huge howl from them against such a display of sacrilege at the expense of taxpayer money.
Another popular advocacy of the Philippine atheists is the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. Of course this RH Bill aims to promote sex education to the public teaching about reproductive health and birth control options. Who do we think will be forking the dough to support the making and presentation of videos or other presentations that show how to, say, put a condom on? Who do we think will be forking the dough to support pep talks about â€œFamily Planningâ€? You guessed it! The taxpayers! Boy, are we getting good at this! Next correct guess and we can win a toaster oven or a set of steak knives!
I mean really, come on! Why is there such a big objection from atheists on the use of government or taxpayer funds when there seems to be an incidental benefit to religion but everything seems to be A-Ok when it comes to things that offend religious sensibilities? Is this really the kind of country atheists and Raymond Palatino envision? A country with a Constitution that was supposedly established by the sovereign Filipino people with the aid of Almighty God (as stated in the preamble) to be a country where taxpayers will subsidize “artistic” exhibits of religious icons with a wooden penis glued to its face. A country that will generously pay for condoms, other birth control devices and the promotion of planned parenthood but act as a Scrooge when it comes to allowing the use of government facilities (even just for a few lousy minutes) for the people to express their faith? Letâ€™s stop thinking about putting up a crucifix in public buildings because that’s offensive and coercive and violative of peopleâ€™s rights! It is a far better use of taxpayer money to provide a facility where figures of sexual organs glued on the faces of religious icons can be displayed!
Itâ€™s really amazing how the â€œEstablishment Clauseâ€ seems to be taken as the most important rule to follow. I find it amazing because some people actually take it hook, line, and sinkers despite their use of it being really flimsy. Firstly, allowing religious ceremonies and religious symbols in public buildings does not establish a religion. Secondly, it is Congress that the Constitution (Art.3. Sec.5) prohibits from making any law that establishes a religion. The Constitutional provision is not about banning the exercise of religion, be it in a public or private setting. The law simply states Congress cannot make a law establishing a State religion, nor can it make a law prohibiting the State from the expression of religion. Allowing religious ceremonies or symbols in public places does not equate to Congress passing an actual law that establishes a religion.
Perhaps Palatino should get real because his bill really doesnâ€™t have a prayer. Perhaps it would be better if he focuses on his actual mandate. You knowâ€¦ to craft laws that actually address the interests of his constituents – the youth. You knowâ€¦. laws that the youth actually consider to be of paramount importance to them.
Calling a spade, a spade…