Some things to clear about us.
(Courtesy of iconarchive.com)
In recent days, there has been much intermingling of politics and religion (one in particular) in the news, particularly where the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill is concerned.
We've heard of a legislator invoking his deity should the bill pass. We've heard of another legislator saying certain provisions in the bill should be stricken out because it goes against religion (one in particular). And we've heard of a legislator aiming for a "compromise" by meeting with religious leaders (one in particular) to draft an "acceptable" version of the same bill.
Now, I realize that even though you are duly elected or appointed public servants, no one has explicitly informed you of the framework by which our government operates. Imagine my surprise when I did not see a Cliffs Notes version about this at all! (In my day - a long time ago - students who failed to write their term papers or book reviews were routinely saved by this creation, a condensed version of mostly literary works.)
Here, then, is my attempt to provide such a service.
(1) This country is a secular democracy.
For those who ran for their positions, you know this very well, having partaken of an important part in this type of government: the election of public officials.
A democracy is popularly known as a government "for, of and by the people", one where citizens have a say as to who should be running the government through elections, what bills are needed through its representatives, and an expectation of a fair hearing in disputes, through its judges. (Formally, the three branches of a democratic government.)
Ultimate power in this government lies in its citizenry, not officials, who are also called public servants. Officials are given certain powers to carry out their duties in the service of the citizens. (It was never meant to be used to enrich oneself or one's family.)
There is no requirement that says you have to belong to a religion (one in particular) to run for office or be appointed as one. This is enforced in our very Constitution, the document that gives life to our way of government. Something about "no religious test will be required", blah, blah - the lawyers can explain this better, because this is supposed to be the shorthand version, so we won't go into detail.
This also means that someone who says "I don't belong to any faith-based group" is eligible to run for public office, as eligible as someone who goes to a place of worship (one in particular) twice a day, seven days a week, and gives money to religious leaders (one in particular) when a collection plate goes by.
Secular, therefore, simply means we don't care about your religious status. A simple test for this would be: are you barred from voting based on your religion, or lack of it?
(2) It follows, then, that our laws should be secular and democratic.
Legislators create/amend laws, executives enforce it, and judges interpret it (and hand out punishments for those who go against it). That is how it works in a democracy. (For those who think this is too simplistic - condensed version, hello. I highlight the big things, don't worry.)
Since our rights as citizens are not in any way hampered by our choice of religion (one in particular) - see above example on voting - then the laws we have governing everyone should also be equally unhampered by any religion (one in particular), and should be applied equally regardless of religion.
In this respect, in a secular democracy, government laws trump any religion's (one in particular) beliefs. A simple test would be: since citizens are guaranteed the right to happiness, can a religion (any which one) get away with, say, raping a virgin, since it is "demanded" by its religious rules? Obviously no, the government can press rape and assault charges on those who claim that raping a young maiden is their "religious right".
And that goes for all so-called "religious rights".
I often hear rebuttals from theists about how they "answer to a higher power" and that they "will be judged in an afterlife". That is a personal call, guaranteed by our secular laws, our freedom to each choose our own religion. If it makes you feel "superior", kindly gloat in your own home, and wait until after your last breath to do so - the freedom to choose my own religion also means I don't have to believe in your specific interpretation of a higher power or your version of an afterlife.
Anyone can create a religion, just to prove that point.
(3) Religious leaders (one religion in particular) should stay out of formulating secular laws.
Time to drill the point home: public officials are not required to belong to any religion (one in particular), and laws cannot be made with any religion (one in particular) in mind.
It stands to reason, then, that anyone affiliated with any particular faith as its leader cannot be "in charge" of making laws in a government that allows you to choose your own religion. That would contravene - go against - the principle of being able to freely choose your own religion, because that particular leader would make into secular law what he personally believes as a matter of faith.
Thereby, forcing a person of a different faith to follow that particular leader's religious rules.
As an example: vegetarianism is self imposed by some faiths because they believe that animal cruelty is heinous. (I find that reasoning odd - what about cruelty to plants, then? - but we'll save that for another time.) If a leader of such a faith became, I don't know, Secretary of Trade and Industry, would that person, based on his or her religious beliefs, be allowed to ban livestock trading because it "offends" his or her faith?
(4) It cannot be a numbers game.
One particular religion is saying that since they claim the most number of adherents in this country, "majority wins".
Aside from the reasons already stated, here's another one: what if that particular religion became number two in terms of claiming their "number of sheep"? If laws were enacted and made to suit that particular religion, should we overhaul these laws and repeal them if they aren't "top dog" in terms of membership?
Already, this one particular religion is losing members - just Google the statistics - because of its flock losing faith in its human leaders, child molestation cases, inability to follow their own advice to members about frugality and the temporary nature of earthly riches, and so many more reasons. It is not at all farfetched - maybe not in this country but worldwide - to think that they will soon be toppled off their supposed vaunted position and standing.
As my friend who voiced this out said, ano to, magririgodon tayo depende kung anong relihiyon ang inaangkin ng mayorya? (what's this, will we go on a carousel depending on which is the most "popular" religion?)
Secular laws - by definition free from any religious bias - should be able to withstand on its own regardless of where the faith-based winds may howl.
(5) Secular democracy is essentially agreeing to disagree.
Since we all have different "views" about beliefs, to each his or her own. Secular laws are the ones we all agree upon regardless of religious affiliation.
I hope that this very short primer on our way of government will help you conduct yourself in matters of the State.
While I do not claim to be an expert who can make perfect arguments, as a reasonably intelligent member of this country, I feel it is my duty to let you know how I think and feel.
Any mistake in my interpretation of our existing laws and social systems can be traced to the fact that I am not a lawyer or a social scientist by trade. It does not mean that I cannot participate in legal matters or cannot be a social observer, in the same way that not all our senators are lawyers, or how astute observations can come from the unlikeliest of sources.
It only means that I care for the direction that this country is headed.
A Citizen of a Secular Democracy (known as the Republic of the Philippines)