“Philippine ‘Magna Carta’ on Religious Freedom sets a dangerous precedent”, says a coalition of Filipino humanists

  • post Type / Members and partners
  • Date / 20 May 2021

On 24 March, the Philippine House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights approved the ‘Magna Carta of Religious Freedom,’ a bill supposedly aimed at protecting the right of the public to freedom of religion or belief, but instead gives preferential treatment to religious groups, while completely excluding humanists and the nonreligious.

The bill disregards the contributions of humanists to the human rights movement, stating in its preamble that “significant moral advances”, such as the worldwide abolition of slavery “have been initiated by religious principles…and religious preaching…not secular ethics.”

A coalition of Filipino humanist and secular organizations released a statement to condemn the bill. The coalition is formed by:

  1. Humanist Alliance Philippines, International, (HAPI, an Associate of Humanists International)
  2. Philippine Atheism, Agnosticism, and Secularism Inc. (PATAS, an Associate of Humanists International)
  3. Atheist Republic – Metro Manila Consulate (ARMMC)

The coalition said some provisions on the bill can be weaponized and used against minorities, such as the LGBTI+ community, because it gives leeway to hate speech and discrimination under the guise of ‘the Right to Profess Religious Belief.’ The bill also gives the ‘right’ for churches and religious corporations to be tax-exempt.

Particularly concerning, individuals and organizations could face financial penalties and incarceration for failing to observe religious freedoms. Depending on how the law is enforced by courts, this could be punitive for civil society groups that lobby for causes perceived to be ‘anti-religion,’ like reproductive rights and equality.

Javan Lev Poblador, Chief Executive of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International, released the following statement on behalf of the coalition:

“For far too long, the non-religious, atheists, and humanists have never been given a voice nor their sentiments heard in any policies or bills crafted by our lawmakers despite the Philippines being a secular State. And if this Magna Carta of Religious Freedom becomes a law, it will endanger the lives of many people, not only the non-religious, but even civil groups.

“We urge our duly elected leaders in Congress to think twice before making this alarming bill into law as it will greatly create a huge dent in our future. The coalition will continue to monitor the bill in the House of Representatives and will continue to uphold the rights of every Filipinos, regardless of belief.”

Lillie Ashworth, Advocacy Officer of Humanists International, commented:

“In excluding non-religious beliefs, the ‘religious freedom’ Magna Carta completely disregards international human rights standards on the right to freedom of religion or belief. A preliminary draft of the bill, which contained a proposal against same-sex marriage, strongly suggests that the legislators have in mind an uninhibited view on ‘religious freedom’ that would give it precedence over other fundamental rights.

“The bill may have repercussions for humanist organizations and activists, as well as broader civil society in the Philippines, who are already forced to operate in an increasingly authoritarian environment marked by repressive ‘red-tagging’ practices and the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation.”

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