Last March 24, the House of Representatives green-lit an amended version of CIBAC Partylist Representatives Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” Villanueva and Domingo Rivera’s proposed Magna Carta of Religious Freedom.
This bill not only infringes the rights of secular, non-religious Filipinos, it also holds serious repercussions for matters of free speech, religious privilege, and fair taxation in the Philippines.
Humanist Alliance Philippines, International stands with other secular organizations in the Philippines, including the Atheist Republic – Metro Manila Consulate and the Philippine Atheism, Agnosticism, and Secularism Inc. in scrutinizing the conditions of the Magna Carta of Religious Freedom and its potential hazards for secular liberty.
Statement on the Magna Carta of Religious Freedom
We, a coalition of secular, humanist, and atheist organizations in the Philippines, stand against the Magna Carta of Religious Freedom in its current form. We feel that the authors’ intentions are biased, unfair, and violating the very purpose of the proposed bill.
The primary author, Eddie Villanueva is a known religious leader who now holds political power in the Philippine Congress. After many years of propagating his church in a business-branching-like model, stood against the SOGIE bill and argued that “To craft a preferential law against the rights of all other sectors of the society for just one particular sector, to me this is unfair, this is class legislation…” in an interview last 2019 has now proposed a bill that will give preferential treatment in favor of religious organizations, corporations, and associations. We have nothing against religious lawmakers if they uphold their sworn oath to serve the entire nation, including those who do not have the same beliefs as theirs.
On the explanatory note of the bill, we are also deeply concerned that the authors completely disregarded the contribution of secular people to the abolitionist movement. In contrast, slavery is justified for the longest time in some biblical passages. During the Martial Law era, though we cannot discount the participation of some religious societies, it was secular organizations that constantly abhorred the injustices, namely, the civil society.
On the early and first versions of the bill, they included a proposal that prohibits same-sex marriage, a clear manifestation of the true intention of the bill that this was not meant to protect the rights of every Filipino.
Magna Carta of Religious Freedom will put many lives of irreligious, secularists, humanists, atheists, and agnostics at risk. We have enumerated our concerns below:
On the Right to Choose a Religion or Religious Community
Aside from having this right already protected in our constitution, there are no provisions that explicitly state and protect the freedom FROM religion (not having one) or the freedom to leave religious communities. In ambiguity, there lies abuse.
On the Right to Profess Religious Belief and Practice Religious Acts
The weaponization of this idea can be used against some communities, including the LGBT+ community or other religious minorities. This can be used to guise hate speech under the freedom to profess religious beliefs and many others.
On the Right to Propagate Religious Beliefs
Abusing this right because of its vagueness, applying coercion as a blanket term in place of criticizing religion in a general sense. With all its absurdities, religion should not be exempted from receiving a fair share of criticism. It should also add the right to deny the propagation of religious beliefs if it usurps the rights of others.
On the Right to Tax Exemption
Not paying tax is not a right but a privilege. Our stand remains, religious organizations, corporations, and associations with all their meddling in state governance must be taxed. Especially when leaders of these organizations decided to run for politics like Eddie Villanueva, or decided to practice bloc voting, which will affect the lives of all Filipinos, they must lose their privilege of not paying taxes.
Particularly alarming, individuals and organizations could face financial penalties and incarceration for failing to protect religious freedoms, depending on how the law is enforced by courts, which could be punitive for groups that lobby against something perceived to be ‘anti-religion,’ like reproductive rights and equality.
We call on our rational leaders in Congress, to exhibit the fairness in this landmark bill that will dictate the path of our future, pushing for more genuine bills that will push science and education forward. Giving importance to humans over belief systems. We also genuinely ask to include the non-religious in the consultations in passing this bill.
For Reason and Science,
Atheist Republic Metro Manila Consulate (ARMMC)
Philippine Atheism, Agnosticism, and Secularism Inc. (PATAS)
Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI)