Saturday, November 13, 2010

TheRH Talking Points

Not too long ago a group of us three Jesuits published what we proposed as talking points on the controversy about the RH Bill. Apparently the venture at initiating dialogue is succeeding. Let me comment on a number of points brought up by some respondents.

First, we hear it said that clearly medical science equates conception with fertilization. True, but other medical authorities speak of implantation as the beginning of pregnancy. Who is right?

For my part, I prefer not to enter into the debate among medical authorities. But let me say something about the Constitution. For me, the meaning of conception in the Constitution is fertilization. The drafters did not mean to make a scientific judgment. Rather, they thought that in the face of disagreement among experts in medical science, they would rather play it safe on the side of life. This, I believe, is also the moral teaching of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae: “. . . what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved [in the fertilized ovum] would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo.”

Second, it has been said that sociological studies and medical studies attest to the damage caused by artificial contraception. However, it cannot be denied that the main opposition to artificial contraception is predominantly based on religious grounds. And the debate is going on within a pluralist state system. In this context, I hold that it is not legitimate for the state to impose on non-Catholics what is predominantly a Catholic rule of conduct.

Third, there have been two negative reactions to the “two track” proposal of the Talking Points. One says that the state would be funding contraception which is per se evil. But the view that it is per se evil is contradicted by non-Catholics who, as I noted above, may not be forced by the state to turn Catholic in their actions.

Another reaction, which I find more interesting although not novel, is that a two-track system would be funding a special concession to a small group for purely religious reasons. I guess the key phrase here is “for purely religious reasons.”

Clearly, the reasoning behind such position is that according to the Constitution public money may not be used for religious purposes. To start with, I would approach this objection by pointing out that there are two religion provisions in the Constitution: the non-establishment clause and the free exercise clause. The prohibition on the use of public money for religious purposes flows from the non-establishment clause.

The question I would ask is: In case of conflict between the non-establishment clause and the free-exercise clause, which should prevail? I have always taught that the non-establishment clause is in service of the free exercise clause. In other words, the state should not prefer one religion over others because history attests that such preference usually impairs the free exercise of religion of those who are not preferred. This is the reason, for instance, why, in spite of the non-establishment clause, the Constitution allows that public money be used for the salaries of chaplains in the military and leprosaria. The rule allows soldiers and lepers whose movements are limited to be able to practice their religion.

Incientally, while our Constitution has an explicit provision allowing salaries for military chaplains, the US Constitution does not. Nevertheless it allows salaries for military chaplains to insure the free exercise of religion.

I suggest that the expenses involved in the “two track approach” can be justified by the argument similar to the justification of salaries for military chaplains – free exercise of religion. The expense is not for promoting religion but for protecting the right of health workers to the free exercise of their religion while doing their civic duty.

Moreover, it is not true to say that any public expense that might benefit religion is always prohibited. There are allowable uses of public money that can have the effect of benefiting religion.

Early in Philippine history the government put out a postage stamp depicting a Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic church. This was challenged as an illegitimate use of public money. But the Court said that it was justified on the argument that whatever benefit the Catholic church might receive was only incidental to the secular goal of promoting knowledge about the Philippines. The incidental benefit to the church did not make the expenditure illegal.

Similarly, the grant of a large amount of money for the construction of a science laboratory in a Catholic school was allowed in spite of the fact that the grant freed the Catholic school’s other funds for religious use. The grant for the secular purpose of promoting science an incidental benefit to the religious mission of the school but was legal.

Along similar lines it can be said that the “two track” system will protect the freedom of religion of Catholic health workers even as they are required to promote the goals of the RH Bill. The benefit is directly for individuals and for the promotion of the goals of the law and only incidentally for the benefit of religion, if at all. (Although this might disappoint bishops and priests who are ready to become martyrs!)

15 November 2010

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