Even as controversy continues among us over the Reproductive Health Bill, a similar and more wide ranging controversy goes on in the United States. An important aspect of the US debate is about the implications of freedom of religion. And since the doctrine on religious liberty was brought to the Philippines from the United States, it might profit us to ponder what is happening and what has happened in the United States. The recent Supreme Court decision National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius covered just part of the total controversy. The fight of the US Bishops is over an area wider than what had been decided so far.
In a document entitled Our First, Most Cherished Liberty the US Bishops summed up some of the government policies they are fighting against thus:
1. “HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. . . . In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are "religious enough" to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the "preventive services" mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: ‘This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.’”
2. “State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what the government deems "harboring" of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants. Perhaps the most egregious of these is in Alabama, where the Catholic bishops, in cooperation with the Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama, filed suit against the law.”
3. “Altering Church structure and governance. In 2009, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Legislature proposed a bill that would have forced Catholic parishes to be restructured according to a congregational model, recalling the trusteeism controversy of the early nineteenth century, and prefiguring the federal government's attempts to redefine for the Church "religious minister" and "religious employer" in the years since.”
4. “Christian students on campus. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.”
5. “Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.”
6. “Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses. While this would not frequently affect Catholic parishes, which generally own their own buildings, it would be devastating to many smaller congregations. It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.”
7. “Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.”
Most relevant to the controversy among us on the RH Bill is what the Bishops cite as HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The others are not yet a live issue among us. But when one considers that a member of Congress has already thought up the idea of banning religious objects in government offices, I would not be surprised if other legislators should think up other religion related bills.
Religious freedom came to the Philippines as constitutional law with the arrival of American occupation. Freedom of religion firmly implanted in our country is not just the right to choose what to believe internally. It also includes the right not to be forced to act against one’s belief and the right to act according to one’s belief. We should be vigilant against incursions against these rights.
9 July 2012