Religious freedom bill approved
Passed by Congress, the Magna Carta of Religious Freedom Act is an important step in a country where relations among various religions have not always been peaceful. The country’s Catholic bishops react positively to the legislation, calling it a “necessity” in a democratic society.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippine Congress has approved a bill that commits the government to protect freedom of religion, an important formal step towards greater unity and participation in a country where geography and history have favoured conflict and divisions.
Known as the Magna Carta of Religious Freedom Act, the bill will be promulgated when it is finally signed into law; once that is done, the government and all its agencies will have to protect people’s religious rights, starting with freedom of choice.
“With this bill, Filipinos will be encouraged to pursue spiritual growth by affording them the freedom to conduct their lives in accordance with their faith or religious belief without the fear of persecution, threat, or punishment,” said Eddie Villanueva, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines and leader and founder of the Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide (JILCW).
First tabled last year, the bill recognises the right to promote one’s beliefs, distribute religious publications, attend religious assemblies and ceremonies, free from discrimination in the workplace.
By the same token, it criminalises certain practices, like compelling someone to choose or not a religion by force, threat, or intimidation; obstruct, hinder or prevent access to religious information; and defame, harass or humiliate someone because of their religious affiliation.
The bill has met opposition and sparked controversy, especially among atheist and secularist groups and supporters of LGBTQ rights who do not consider themselves protected, as well as groups within the Islamic community who fear that the legislation favours Churches and Christians.
But for one of its sponsors, Representative Bienvenido Abante, it simply does what is in the constitution, namely “protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof”.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has also reacted positively to the bill. Noting the difficulty in drafting a law that works for all religious groups, the prelates stress how such legislation is a "necessity” in every democratic society.
For Fr Joven Hestula, a member of the CBCP Commission on Ecumenical Affairs, “We need to know what our specific rights are” and “what the corresponding punishment is should anyone dare violate” the right to religious freedom.