Within hours of Carlos Celdran’s outrage against the Catholic Mass, the Internet came alive with Filipinos posting their own opinions on the incident. Many not only praised him but even justified his actions. Others disagreed with his being jailed for violation of article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. Even now, several days after the event, it is still the talk of the town. Even FaceBook had a page for those clamoring that Celdran be released from jail (Carlos has posted bail and has been released).
More worrisome, however, was a flood of posts, on FaceBook and other blog sites, expressing outright hatred and contempt for the Church. Some of these were so vile that they would probably qualify as “hate speech” in other countries.
That wasn’t all, however.
The other night someone forwarded me a text message calling for other acts of disruption and outright sacrilege. What would be next? Silencing of Catholic leaders through grave threats? Violence?
Religious freedom and harassment of religious persons
Carlos Celdran is my friend and I feel bad that he resorted to this stunt. I also feel bad that he is in jail. He has been good and respectful to me despite our disagreements on some issues. He, like myself, has the right to speak out on any issue.
Still, we have to make one thing clear: Carlos Celdran is NOT in jail because of his views on the Church and the RH/Abortion Bill. His right to freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution and no law can take precedence over that. The issue here is NOT about free speech. It is about protecting people of faith from harassment. It is about freedom of religion.
One person, writing in reaction to an editorial in the Philippine Star which sided with Celdran and called for a repeal of that particular section of the Revised Penal Code, put it this way (this letter was also circulated on the Internet; emphasis mine):
First of all, it is inaccurate to portray Carlos Celdran as a martyr for his free speech rights. He is not being charged for simply expressing his views; hence your fear that “80 percent of the population who through surveys have expressed support for birth control” could be imprisoned for offending religious feelings is unfounded. He is being charged for having scoffed at church authority during the mass and inside a church. Please take the trouble of researching what Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code actually penalizes. The constitution protects Carlos Celdran’s right to express his views, no matter how unconventional they may be, but the constitution likewise protects the rights of everyone to worship according to their religious beliefs in peace. While he has the right to express dissenting opinions, he has no right to infringe on other people’s right to worship in peace.
Second, the provision penalizing offending religious feelings applies to all religions alike. To repeal the law against offending religious feelings would be to expose all religions — and not just the Catholic religion — to contempt. The repeal would mean anyone can burn the Koran inside a mosque during an Islamic service, or make a heated attack on Manalo inside an Iglesia ni Cristo building during their Thursday pagsamba. These scenarios hardly promote mutual understanding among religions. The above mentioned examples are offensive to modern sensibilities; a similar affront on the Catholic religion is no less offensive.
Atty. Jose Sison, writing his column today (“Reprehensible,” A Law each Day (Keeps Trouble Away). Philippine Star), explained:
People who believe in God whether Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or any other faith would certainly feel offended if somebody disrupts the very rite or liturgy that is the center of their faith, the celebration of God’s presence in their midst. These rituals are the most sacred to them. This is the reason behind the provision of our Revised Penal Code (RPC, Article 133) penalizing with imprisonment from 6 months to 2 years and 4 months “anyone who shall perform acts in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony” which are “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful”.
For Catholics “the Mass is the center of the Church. Nothing can compare to the Mass because it is the renewal of the Sacrifice on the Cross where Christ offers Himself up for all humanity. It is the moment when heaven and earth unite”. Disrupting the Mass is therefore the most offensive act against the feelings of Catholic faithful. Anyone who disrupts the mass like that Intramuros tourist guide (his name is not worth mentioning) certainly deserves to be imprisoned. His act can never be justified by his deep resentment against the prelates who oppose the RH bill. It is willfully, willingly and feloniously done during a rite most sacred to Catholics and therefore punishable under the RPC. Muslims and Buddhists would also feel offended if such disruption was committed against them. There is no reason why disruption of a Catholic ritual should be treated differently.
Article 133 of the RPC does not penalize the proponents and supporters of the RH bill or those who want to impose a family planning program and the promotion of women’s reproductive health. It only penalizes the act of disrupting religious worships and rites. Definitely this is not a medieval law. It is relevant and appropriate for as long as faith in the almighty God exists. Those who are therefore advocating the repeal of the law on the premise that it is being enforced by the “Padre Damasos” allegedly still in our midst or by “people whose thinking is stuck in the dark ages”, are grossly mistaken and miserably misinformed.
Religious services are basically “soft” targets. They are generally open to the public, have little (if sny) security, and are easily disrupted. Historically, many governments and extremist movements — from ancient times to this very day — have easily suppressed religious worship. Often it is overt, but sometimes this repression is more subtle. Even today wehave some democratic, secular government suppressing what can be uttered in a religious ceremony. It is because of this vulernability that religious worship must be protected.
Prelude to Anti-Religious Fanaticism?
We should also remember the effect that such extreme forms of disrespect can have on constructive and informative debate. When mutual respect disappears, people resort to acts of offensive acts of destruction and humiliation, and rational discussion is sidelined. When reason is pushed aside, fanaticism takes over.
I have personally observed that the debate on the RH/Abortion Bill (HB 96, formerly HB 5043) often devolves into name-calling and accusations, usually started by the pro-RH camp. All sorts of incredible and ignorant claims against the Church are brought up, revealing the outright ignorance and immature nature of the bill’s proponents. It is rare for persons from the pro-life side to initiate such low, below-the-belt tactics (although some can dish it out as well).
Let’s hope that the sacrilege committed at the Manila Cathedral is an isolated incident and not the beginning of a fanatical trend.
The RH/Abortion issue is literally a life and death matter for many, especially the unborn, who will become victims of anti-life policies. It deserves honest, informed debate. Disrespectful antics by fanatics are simply out of place.
(NOTE: This article was also published in my blog at: http://mamador.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/open-season-on-catholics/)