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When religion comes in conflict with the law

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - February 21, 2021 - 12:00am

As a professor of Law since 1977, I always come across cases when the laws of the State collide with the teachings of the Church, and I always find refuge in many provisions of our Constitution on the separation between the Church and the State, as well as the freedom of religion. When religion comes in conflict with the law, I remember St. Thomas More who said: “I am the King's faithful servant, but God's first.” Or Jesus' admonition to the scribes: “Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.”

The Philippine Constitution, the highest law of the land, being the expression of the sovereign Filipino people, has outlined certain principles that should guide us in making decisions and actions whenever such conflicts between religion and law occur. In its Declaration of Principles and State Policies, Article II, specifically, Section 6, it says that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. In Article III, the Bill of Rights, it provides that no law shall be made establishing an official religion or prohibiting its free exercise. The exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship should be free and should be forever allowed, without discrimination or preference. No religious test shall be allowed for the exercise of civil or political rights.

In Labor Law, which I have taught in various universities since the ‘70s, there are many instances when religious norms come into play. For instance, employees who willfully disobey company rules or are guilty of gross and habitual neglect of duties may be legally dismissed under the Labor Code. But if the refusal to work every Saturday and his rampant absenteeism is due to the fact that the employee is a Seventh-Day Adventist, we cannot dismiss him legally on that basis. When there is a closed shop or union shop agreement between the union and the company requires all employees to join the union or be dismissed, we cannot apply that to members of the Iglesia ni Cristo and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Supreme Court repeatedly declared that religious freedom takes precedence over union rights or contractual obligations.

In Family Law, religion objects when certain countries allow same-sex marriages, or make divorce legal, or allow abortion and mercy killing or euthanasia. Contrariwise, there is a religious group based in the US that allows polygamy or their men having many wives. And that collides with the some state laws penalizing bigamy, polygamy, adultery, and concubinage. In the Philippines, I know of some high government officials who have more than one wife, and they give a semblance of legality to it by professing Islam as their new religion. That makes their second wife legitimate and their children also legitimized. But the Muslim imams frown upon this practice as a desecration of the teachings of Prophet Mohammad and is displeasing to Allah.

In Constitutional Law, there was a case entitled Ebralinag vs. Cebu's DepEd Superintendent, involving teachers and students in the northern part of Cebu, who were members of Jehovah's Witness. They vehemently refused to sing the National Anthem and to recite the Panatang Makabayan, as well as to salute the Philippine flag, which they consider idol worship to graven images. The school officials subjected the teachers to administrative discipline and expelled the students for violating the law and the school regulations. These guys went to the Supreme Court and assailed the law. The Supreme Court en banc, without any dissent, decided in favor of the religious objectors. Again, religion triumphs over the law.

In my class, I always start with an opening prayer. In San Beda and in the UST, we do it the Catholic way. But in UE and in other non-sectarian schools, we do it in an ecumenical manner. And when there is a Muslim student, and there are many in my classes, we allow an Islamic prayer. Alhamdulillah. To me, one of the highest kinds of law is mutual respect and mutual tolerance. There is only one God, whether they call him Allah, God the Father, Jehovah, or El Shaddai, the names differ, but it is the same God who presides over the destinies of men and nations. Amen.

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