By Raïssa Robles
Jesuit priest-constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas poses today an intriguing question triggered by Carlos Celdran’s conviction of “notoriously offending the religious feelings” by holding up the sign “Damaso” before top bishops.
Fr. Bernas wrote in his column today at the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
Finally, Article 133 also raises an intriguing question: When a priest or bishop castigates or consigns to the netherworld those who oppose the Reproductive Health Law in a sermon before a captive audience of churchgoers, should he be penalized by the State or canonically censured for offending religious feelings? After all, defenders of the RH Law also have feelings! What is good for the gander should also be good for the goose.
He hit the offending nail right on the head when he said the controversy over Celdran’s conviction was all about the exercise of the right to free speech. And he also hints that the crime that Celdran was convicted is long overdue for scrapping :
Hence, an important question that must be asked is whether Article 133 violates freedom of expression and free exercise or nonestablishment of religion, especially since the crime is listed among crimes against the fundamental law. Freedom of speech is violated when speech is restrained or punished even if the speech does not present a clear and present danger of a substantive evil which the state has the right to prevent. Free exercise of religion is violated when a person is prevented from or punished for externalizing his religious belief or is forced to do something contrary to his religious belief. Nonestablishment of religion is violated when the state shows preference for one religion over others or prefers religion to no religion.
Carlos Celdran is being ordered punished for offending the feelings of others by speaking, orally or symbolically, against religious values dearly held by others. In other words, he is being punished for religious speech. I thought that this kind of offense already disappeared after the events of 1902.
To read the rest of his very thought-provoking column, click on this link.