Having been offline most of the day, I was besieged with countless status updates when I logged into my Facebook account about a singular news item: Carlos Celdran has been sentenced to serve time for "offending religious feelings."
The phrase itself is problematic, and seems to me nothing more than senseless alliteration: why should someone be incarcerated on account of hurt feelings? I am certain that I have hurt many people's feelings with what I have been accused of possessing, a tart tongue that will not sugarcoat things just to soften the blow. Corollary to that, many people have returned the favor, sometimes quite pointedly and in equal measure, but in other times, done unwittingly.
I am led to question the intent of this phrase's inclusion in our penal code.
It seems to be designed to stifle any form of criticism aimed against religions, and since most of this country identifies itself as Catholic, then it would be understandable if anyone would think that this specific provision, while couched in general language, is meant to shore up Catholicism.
If you think this is conjecture on my part, one only needs to go back to last month, when the debates on the now newly-minted Reproductive Health law were still raging because it was then just a bill to be voted upon. Back then lawmakers against the measure stood up to defend their positions. We heard variations of the same point – this is a Catholic country, we should include the inputs of the Catholic Church when making our laws, and, while I was watching the live voting on television, one lawmaker even recited a Catholic prayer in lieu of a defense that could be contested on legal or secular merits.
Clearly, Catholicism is not on the same footing with other religions in this country, which is really an affront to any democratic society, where no religion is to be treated in any way superior, and is to be excluded in the discussion of secular matters. Our own lawmakers seem to find it difficult to separate state from church, so in truth it may actually be unsurprising why "offending religious feelings" is inscribed in our laws, at least for now.
Celdran's misstep – one that can be argued as inspired for the same reason – was that he raised his Damaso placard during an ecumenical service. I often argue about how religions should stay out of secular spaces such as both Houses of Congress, so it is but proper that churches and religions be free to say and do whatever it is their faiths permit them to in their own spaces.
But what he was protesting was essentially a response to the never-ending foray of the Catholic church into the affairs of the state. I remember he was protesting its constant opposition to the RH Bill (then), and dressed up as our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, he raised his voice – his placard – to demonstrate his feelings about the constant intrusion the institution makes.
WWJD – What would Jesus Do? – is a common online response to fundamentalist Christians in the United States, who seem intent on using the Bible on every turn to justify their misogynistic, racist and homophobic stances, appropriating for themselves some derivative of "holiness" because they have found a Bible verse to prop up their biases. It turns their claim on its head because, for example, not once was there a record of Jesus himself ever saying anything about homosexuality in the book they profess to believe in.
It would be interesting, then, to answer this question: what would Jose Rizal do?
How would Rizal have reacted to the constant interference of the Catholic Church in the debates about the (then) RH Bill? Or to how it has flexed its political muscle in practically all secular affairs when it is supposed to be excluded from them as an institution?
A clue to his response would be that he wrote two of the novels we now study in school: “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” which depict the Catholic hierarchy in the most unflattering light. Isn't it interesting that when the Rizal Law – the reason it is a requirement to use these books in school – was being debated in Congress, the same hierarchy also opposed it strongly, on pretty much the same grounds that they did with the RH Bill (now Law)?
As a non-Catholic, they have constantly offended my feelings: where else but in this country can you see a grotto and a 3 o'clock Catholic prayer being uttered over the PA system in a government office, thereby stopping work, and forcing me and other non-Catholics to listen to it in what is supposed to be a secular government office?
What recourse does any citizen have over the brazen way this institution has tried to impose on others of a different faith, what it thinks and believes in, when we have a provision that protects its "feelings?"
Anyone who does not subscribe to the Catholic faith can easily be regarded as "offensive," choosing to profess any other faith, or none at all. Should Protestants also lodge complaints against Catholics, since statues of saints are seen as "graven images" and are therefore an affront to the Protestant faith? Where does it end?
It may be time to reread the "Noli" and "Fili," once again. Until we learn from our own history, we are doomed to perpetuate the same cycle over and over. We allow one religion to wield considerable influence over how the state is run, leaving one question: Was Rizal's death in vain? - Rappler.com
Erratum: The piece earlier said Celdran raised his placard during Mass. It was actually during an ecumenical service. Mass was held after the service.