RH, the academe, and human rights

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

To those actively participating in the national conversation regarding the RH Bill, a constant source of frustration is discussing the same with somebody who keeps shifting ground while one is in the middle of directly addressing a particular issue. Deliberate tact or not, it unfortunately prevents intelligent discourse in what is clearly an important national subject.

That problem again came up when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines urged "Catholic" universities to adhere faithfully to Church teachings. It was a logical, reasonable enough request: like simply telling a history teacher to teach history or a math teacher to teach math. But that CBCP statement met with almost hysterical reaction from certain quarters, particularly those advocating for the RH Bill. Commentators supposedly more circumspect are now seen labeling the Bishops the "Taliban," or of reviving the "inquisition," or "waging a just war."

But did the CBCP cross the line in making that call as they did? Religious freedom is a confirmed international human right. As the UN Declaration of Human Rights provides: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." This is expanded by the later International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to include: "respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."

So the Bishops, like anybody else, had the right to say what they said. Note that the Bishops were not asking people to obey without thinking or coercing them to let go of their conscience. All they were asking is for Catholic universities (or at least those who say they are Catholic academic institutions) to teach Catholic doctrine correctly.

But doesn’t this violate academic freedom? The answer is no. It’s not even the issue. Does the Church, through its Bishops (mandated, as declared in the Catechism, as the "authentic teachers of the apostolic faith"), have the right to determine what is Catholic doctrine from what isn’t? Of course it does. And our Supreme Court recognized this right through a long line of cases: from the right of the religious to "proselytize" (American Bible Society case) to the fact that the State should not interfere with any religions’ beliefs, creeds, or doctrines (see Islamic Da’wah, Seventh Day Adventists, and Ebranilag cases).

The Catholic Church’s teachings are succinctly and widely available in compiled form in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Do the Catholic Church and Catholic universities have the right to have that taught to its students? Yes. It’s a constitutional and human right as mentioned above. Do Catholic universities have the right to direct how that particular subject is taught, who teaches it, and retain who it thinks is fit to teach it? Yes. Again a constitutional and international human right; further discussed in Article XIV of the Constitution and elucidated by the Supreme Court in cases such as Miriam College Foundation and Alfredo de Torres.

And let’s not forget: nobody is forcing anybody to study or teach in those schools.

As mentioned above, academic freedom is not even actually the issue. It is academic or intellectual honesty, and respect for the contractual rights of the university and of the parents who enrolled their children in a Catholic school expecting a Catholic education. Again, nobody is telling anybody not to teach what he or she doesn’t want. But it’s simply dishonest and wrong for one to teach against Church doctrines and then pass that off as Catholic doctrine. Teach that if you want but call it something else. Call it "Liberation Theology" or "Critique of Church Teachings from the Marxists Perspective." Anything. But don’t call it "Catholic." In short, if a teacher was asked (and he agreed) to teach Catholic doctrine, then that teacher is contractually obliged (either to the school administration or to the students or to the students’ parents) to teach it. Not doing so could simply result in civil (or possibly even criminal) liabilities.

Contrast that established right to religion with that oft-repeated claim that access to contraceptives is an international human right. It is most definitely not. There is no treaty that ever mentions contraception nor is there any binding international norm that requires States to supply contraceptives (see White Paper on Family Planning by the World Youth Alliance). "Reproductive Health" is a right but that term is not synonymous with contraception. And international law clearly does not require the need for reproductive health to be fulfilled merely through contraception.

In the end, it’s good to remember Cardinal Newman’s dictum: our "conscience has rights because it has duties." For our students’ sake, lessening our egos and developing rational thought would be quite helpful indeed.