this is a repost of an October 2013 article for BusinessWorld:
Last week was full of statements calling for the unconstitutionality of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (Offending religious feelings). That such calls are reactionary and biased is to point out the obvious. The claims, however, were also based on fallacious reasoning and on assumptions that have no basis in or disregard reality.
We will ignore complaints that Article 133 violates Church/State separation for their utter obliviousness on what the concept really means. Also to be snubbed is that supremely asinine argument that Christians must forgive everything and forget about justice. That has never been the Catholic Church’s teaching. Forgiveness must always be coupled with justice.
Then there’s the dim-witted "Spanish-era" Article 133 is "antiquated" position. But by that "logic," the US Constitution and the Ten Commandments must be discarded as well.
Instead, we look at the argument that the foregoing provision is unconstitutional for conflicting with free speech. Such, however, ignores basic constitutional law: the right to free speech is not absolute. One cannot libel or slander people, commit vandalism to express opinions, display obscenities, falsely shout "fire" in crowded places. The point here is not to stifle dissent or contrasting ideas but to restrain speech that deliberately is meant to sow hate, violence, or intolerance.
The provision, as it’s currently viewed, has nothing theocratic about it. Neither is it meant to favor a specific religion. It simply acknowledges the fact that there are some things people feel strongly about. Hence, why crimes committed in another’s house or murdering one’s own family members, or assaulting teachers or public officials, have higher penalties. Considering today’s fears of terrorism, one can go to jail just by making a joke about bombs while inside an airport. That is why the Civil Code has a provision restraining rich people from flaunting their wealth in times of public want (see Article 25).
One incredibly bizarre argument recently made is that priests who speak against the RH law during Mass also offend the feelings of those who are pro-RH. But this ignores the constitutional right of the priest to religion and free speech, the constitutional right of the pro-RH individual to religion which includes the right to stop being a Catholic and not attend Mass, and the fact that what is being punished by our laws is not the contrary idea being expressed but the hateful, intolerant manner in which it is expressed.
Then there are people who argue that free speech shouldn’t come with restrictions. Such argument, again however, inanely disregards reality. And also quite hypocritical: I bet that any person who argues that, if confronted with someone who joins their family party and starts insulting them, causes a ruckus, makes them look silly in front of the cameras, and then posts pictures and smugly boasts about it in the Internet, would not hesitate to have the law fully enforced.
The other argument employed is why should religion be given distinct protection? If an Imam, it is argued, enters a gathering of atheists, disrupts proceedings, then why would that not be considered a crime? Actually, it is. On the top of my head, it could constitute qualified trespass, tumults, alarms, unjust vexation, or violating the right to peaceful assembly.
On the other hand, it’s also true that religion is given such protection because it is so fundamental, an inherent and self-evident inclination of people, that the right to religion is considered a primary human right that must be respected. Hence, this right to religious freedom is protected, not only by our Constitution, but also by international instruments such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
That is why many countries in the world aside from the Philippines penalize hate speech (i.e., speech vilifying persons on the basis of some characteristic like race or religion). Poland, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Germany, Denmark, amongst others, impose punishments for it. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently ruled against speech offending religious sensibilities and hate speech. Britain punishes hate speech that seeks to "stir up religious hatred."
The point here is: whether or not you believe in religion or agree with the doctrines of a religion, the reality remains that religion is something fundamental to most people’s identities and their conception of rights. This fact, like the attachment to the ideas of family or marriage (both definitely established human rights as well) is something that liberals, progressives, or leftists have puzzlingly been unable to comprehend. The plea for tolerance (correctly understood from the Latin tol -- to endure a burden) should never be understood to mean that people must shut up about their religious rights.
Simply put, there may be room for sloppy thinking in the public square but none at all for bullying and boorishness.