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With Due Respect

Rights to worship and to bear arms

Last Monday, I wrote that the Supreme Court of the United States (Scotus) recently issued three landmark decisions, via a uniform vote of 6-3, which (1) abolished the women’s right to abortion, (2) protected the right to religious worship, and (3) strengthened the right to keep and bear arms in public. I had space to discuss only the first decision, and observed that—in construing the due process clause of our Constitution—our Supreme Court never recognized any right to abortion. In fact, our Constitution abhors abortion, and our Penal Code criminalized it.

IN CONTRAST, OUR CONSTITUTION SAFEGUARDS THE RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. To begin with, the Preamble of our present (1987) Charter opens with a prayer, “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God…” Our prior Constitutions similarly prayed, “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Divine Providence…” (1973) and “The Filipino people, imploring the aid of Divine Providence…” (1935).

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No similar prayer is found in the US Constitution. However, the US Congress approved the official American motto “In God We Trust,” which is printed in dollar bills and engraved in US coins. Moreover, the First Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed religious freedom in this wise, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The first part is referred to as the “establishment clause” and the second part, the “free exercise clause.”

Our Constitution (Article III, Section 5) includes these two parts and goes beyond them by expressly guaranteeing the “free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference,” and prohibiting any “religious test … for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

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IN 2001, OUR SUPREME COURT COMPOSED THE “CENTENNIAL PRAYER FOR THE COURTS” in a partial celebration of its 100th birthday, as follows: “Almighty God, we stand in Your holy presence as our Supreme Judge. We humbly beseech You to bless and inspire us so that what we think, say, and do will be in accordance with your will. Enlighten our minds, strengthen our spirit, and fill our hearts with fraternal love, wisdom and understanding, so that we can be effective channels of truth, justice, and peace. In our proceedings today, guide us in the path of righteousness for the fulfillment of your greater glory. Amen.”

This prayer is recited at the beginning of each session of the Court and of all courts. Does this voluntary recitation violate the separation of church and state? The short answer is “No.” In Re: Valenzuela (March 7, 2017), the Supreme Court en banc (with one dissent) went a step further and allowed the holding of Catholic Masses (and other religious rituals) in the Halls of Justice all over the country.

It is not just the courts that pray. Both Houses of Congress and the Cabinet do also. Observe that in the joint congressional session to hear the State of the Nation Address of the President on July 25, an ecumenical prayer will be recited by representatives of the major religious groups.

Our most basic concept of separation of church and state merely requires the government to be “benevolently neutral” in the “competition,” as it were, amongst different religious denominations. Hence, Congress cannot appropriate and the President cannot spend public funds to build a basilica for the exclusive use of one denomination; neither can it promote the dogmas of another to the detriment of the rest; nor can it pay the salaries of priests or imams for performing strictly religious duties. Furthermore, it cannot use religion as a prerequisite to work in the government.

I believe the Philippines is theist, not atheist, not even agnostic. In fact, it is monotheist; it worships one God. At bottom, while there is separation of church and state, there is no separation of the state from God.

LET ME NOW MOVE TO THE AMERICAN RIGHT TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS in public for self-defense which was strengthened by the third Scotus decision. This right is anchored on the Second Amendment of the US Constitution which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

During the three and a half centuries since the Second Amendment was approved, the Scotus conservatives have enlarged its coverage to include all American citizens, not just the members of the ancient “militia”—pursuant to the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

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Because of this expansion, the various US states have found it difficult to regulate and control gun ownership and use. Despite the recent shootings in many areas in the US, the Scotus still justified the right which was born during the American colonies’ struggle for independence from Great Britain in 1775-1783.

Our Constitution does not grant a similar right to keep and bear arms. Further, Congress passed stringent laws on gun ownership and use.

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TAGS: right to bear arms, right to worship, US constitution, US Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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