Monday, July 10, 2006

Justice at the Intersection of the Church and State

he 1987 Philippine Constitution declares, with uncharacteristic succinctness, that:
The Principle of Separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.
But what is it--exactly--that the Constitution declares to be inviolable? Reading the provision plainly shows that it is the Principle of the Separation of Church and State that is inviolable. It may seem like hair splitting, but some people read this differently and talk as if it is the Separation of Church and State that is inviolable. Sometimes even so called forefathers of the Philippine Constitution speak like that. This subtle misreading has spawned a widespread misinterpretation that mutates with every issue that arises: that the Principle of Separation prohibits the Church and State from "meddling" in each other's affairs, that an unbreachable "wall of separation" exists between them, that the Church, should be restricted to works of morality and salvation, while the State, concentrates on governance and politics, or some such casuistry.

Yet isn't it obvious that it is physically and logically impossible to comply with such a mandate of absolute, even literal "separation"? How can there be no moral issues in a trillion peso annual enterprise called the government? How can an organized religion that counts some 80% of the citizens of the Republic as its adherents, NOT be involved in politics? How can men of love, men of charity, be insensitive or indifferent to injustice? How can public officials govern without considering morality?

Clearly, this can't be what "separation" means: that Church and State shall have nothing to do with one another across some unbreachable wall, pretending the other doesn't exist or doesn't matter. Reality is, PEOPLE make up both the Church and the State. Individuals, the smallest minority in a democracy, make up the agencies and institutions of both Church and State.

So in what sense are Church and State separate?

In the sense that a Union of Church and State, a theocracy, shall never be established, which only means to say, that no religious authority may wield the civilian authority's powers of State--all of whose extent and limits are stated by a democratically ratified Constitution.

What principle involving them is inviolable?

In my opinion, it is the principle that "Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them." State Power is thus vested in the democratically elected government. It is a principle established by an historical fact. Every modern democracy has experienced a "moment of disestablishment" -- a definite historic event, roughly coincident with the ratification of a democratic Constitution -- when a theocracy, a dictatorship, a monarchy, a colonial or totalitarian regime of some kind, is overthrown by the revolutionary forces that are establishing a new democratic State. This State forever reserves unto itself the components of State Power: the power to pass laws, to compel obedience to them by force of arms if necessary, to adjudicate the laws in disputes among its citizens, and to exercise governance over the "temporal sphere." What makes the State, the State, are these special powers that we normally ascribe to a government. Only the democratically elected government is allowed to wield state power.

Let me therefore re-state what the Principle of the Separation of Church and State:

A Union of Church and State, a theocracy, shall never be established. Nor can "religious authorities" ever be allowed to wield State powers, which are forever reserved for agencies of the democratically elected government. Like the armed forces, the religious forces in society accept the supremacy of civilian authority as contained in the Constitution.

Happily, at least the Catholic Church agrees. Look at the answer that the Christian churches themselves often give: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's!"

Well what IS it that belongs to Caesar and what to God?

I think it is the powers we normally ascribe to democratic states: power to make laws, to enforce them by force of law and arms, and to adjudicate their meaning by Reason. But in reserving these powers to the State, all other entities in society, such as Citizens and their associations, such as NGOs, newspapers, people's organizations, and churches get an entire Bill of Rights that strictly limit the exercise of those very powers by the State. For example, as a result of agreeing never to wield State Posers, the Church gets a guarantee of freedom of religion.

In several recent posts (one, two, three) I have tackled the subject matter from the point of view of the Bill of Rights provision on freedom of religion:
1987 Constitution (Bill of Rights) Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

JOHN J. CAROLL, SJ hits a high note on PDI Commentary this past week with Deja Vu All Over Again
First, there is no “infallible” teaching on relations between Church and State. These relations evolved over time to the point at which Pope John Paul II spoke of the Church valuing “the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.” (“Centesimus Annus,” No. 40) The present Pope adds that while it is not the right nor the duty of the Church to replace the State, yet it “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (“Deus Est Caritas,” No. 28)
I find quite remarkable Section 28 of Deus Caritas Est, where Pope Benedict explains the relationship between the Church and the State, between politics and religion as follows:
The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”.[18] Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere.[19] The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated...
What is Benedict referring to by "The State" in the red letter text above? Is it the Roman Empire? Is it the theocracies or monarchies or feudal realms of Medieval times? Is it perhaps an ideal communist state or other form of totalitarianism? Is it a fascist or socialist state that he refers to? No. Pope Benedict is clearly and obviously refering to a modern democratic, secular state. It is remarkable to me that Pope Benedict XVI, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and its most authoritative exponent, accepts citizenship in what is indubitably a mere Democratic State in a form with which we are intimately and historically familiar.

It is remarkable that the Pope acknowledges the existence of "different religions" and demands of the State that it guarantee a condition of freedom and harmony among them all.

When Pope Benedict declares the proper independence of the Church he heads, and when he demands of the State recognition as a "community of faith" -- he is exercising the civil and political rights of a citizen of free, open, liberal democratic states all over the world -- he is LOBBYING for his share of democratic space on the part of his very special Non Government Organization, the Roman Catholic Church. This acceptance of Democracy by the Pope, is clearly seen in his most excellent paraphrase of the Bill of Rights provision on freedom of religion:
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which will always demand sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper." (Deus Caritas Est, No. 28)
The Holy Father says there must be love even when there IS justice, but that it would be inhuman to sit on the sidelines of the fight for justice in a world that is full of injustice. Here it is in a part of Deus Caritas Est not yet quoted in the Media that I've read, where the Pope blesses, nay urges action in the here and now:
Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes. The Christian's programme —the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus—is “a heart which sees”. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly. Obviously when charitable activity is carried out by the Church as a communitarian initiative, the spontaneity of individuals must be combined with planning, foresight and cooperation with other similar institutions.
A remarkable conclusion emerges from all these considerations. It is conceivable for two things which are inviolably SEPARATE in the sense that their UNION is constitutionally forbidden, to nevertheless have an INTERSECTION in the CONSCIENCES of men, in the reality of their lives and their labors, in the demand and the need for justice so that society may find peace.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has just released a much awaited Pastoral Letter, the result of its recent Plenary Session in Manila over the weekend. There are NO SURPRISES:

(1) On Family Under Siege: We are deeply troubled by legislation and state policy ideas that weaken or even destroy cherished family values: childbearing, marriage.

(2) On Charter Change: Elections in 2007 must not be cancelled.

(3) On Impeachment: We are not inclined to support the impeachment process.

(4) On Extrajudicial Killings: No more!

In this and other recent posts, I have strongly defended the rights of the Catholic Church and its Bishops to participate fully in democratic political life, to speak out on the issues of the day, just like any NGO or newspaper or other assembly of citizens.

But it doesn't necessarily mean I agree with their specific positions on any given issue, which I hope is always clear in this blog. I disagree fundamentally with their position on mining for example.

THE LONG AND SHORT of all of this is that any Church, like the Catholic Church, may be treated like any other NGO--a Non-Government Organization--for constitutional purposes. Whenever a question involving separation of church and state arises, simply replace any reference to "Catholic Church" with "Bayan Muna" or "CPPNPA" or the "Boy Scouts of the Philippines" or "CODE-NGO." Whatever you say about any of them, applies to all. The Catholic Church is nothing but an NGO, as far the Constitution is concerned. It has exactly the same rights and duties as them, to choose its own beliefs and rules as an organization of citizens, to petition the government for redress of grievances, to make rallies and demonstrations (which they call Holy Mass), and Pastoral Letters are the equivalent of mere manifestoes, press releases or editorials. All these institutions are NGOs in the sense of Separation of Church and State: the organized religions; the organized press; organized Labor, the organized Left, the Knights of Rizal, the CBCP. By adopting this simple mental device, anyone becomes a constitutional expert on the Separation of Church and State because it IS the best, logically consistent explanation that I have found of what the separation of church and state really means.


jhay said...

Well said, and I hope you don't mind if I use this post as a reference in my Religous Education class next week. We're still in the topic of Church and its relationship to the State.

So that for once, our classroom discussion would be more intellectually stimulating rather than like being in a Sunady Bible school listening to the preachings of a Cathecist.

schumey said...

They also took notice of One Voice. But with the condition it stays non-partisan. Overall, I found the pastoral letter on the "safe side". They skirted certain issues that could make them look partisan. So much for the legacy left by cardinal Sin and Pope John Paul II. Their letter could cut both ways. I would not be surprised if both administration and opposition would claim victory. Everybody happy, except the ordinary Catholic who has to contend with the rigors of everyday life. I just wonder why they did not mention the Mnining Act which have been their advocacy and the very contentious SexEd in public schools. Morality does cut both ways, no wonder many Catholics are swayed by other religions.

ricelander said...

Their position on the impeachment is at best confusing. They say they are absolutely on the side of truth but that impeachment is not the right way. So what do they propose to do? Nothing! Maybe through prayers and more prayers and more prayers... Some guidance.

Jego said...

Our country's history with the Roman Catholic Church has a lot to do with the prevailing sentiment that not only should the Church be protected from the State, but that the State should also be protected from the Church.

400 years in a Catholic convent is a lot of years. Our so-called leaders still hasnt shaken this off.

Edwin Lacierda said...


Break a leg tonight! Spread your gadfly wings over the airwaves!


Fair wind Dean!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dean,

I watched the Explainer, and I liked your thesis that the church should be treated as any NGO.

At tama ka kawawa nga naman ang mga bishops at litong lito na rin sila.
The view of Mr. Robles was that they should be limited to spiritualm advice is like saying that teachers should only teach,etc. that is like saying taht they should not have a life.

About the church not paying taxes,so they must stay silent...the argument and thesis is so shallow,for me.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

You are right DJB, it is the Principle of the Separation of Church and State that is inviolable. Not the Church and the State. You cannot separate the body and the soul. Because God created a Living Soul when he breath the breathe of Life into man's physical body that he moulded from the soil. He created a WHOLE not parts.

The Principle is found where Jesus said: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." You don't have to cut up man to do this but just stick to the principle of rendering and following the laws of the land and above all the Commandments of God.

vonjobi said...

since you mentioned caesar, i'll just add that after editing a biblical scholar's article on precisely this point, politicians or anyone else, for that matter, will always (mis)interpret the bible according to their needs. it's been deja vu all over again for so many centuries now =)

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

Gloria is the best in interpreting the law to favor her no matter what position she takes. You cannot fight her legally and you cannot fight her illegally because the Palace is expert in both.

So far, those that want her out have taken steps that are so predictable because they've been done before. Gloria anticipates and blocked all of them. And the sources of the actions can also be anticipated and Gloria plugged them all: The Catholic Church, Civil Society, Hyatt 10, Erap, Opposition Congressmen, the Senate, the Militants, and the Military.

Gloria monitored all of them and confronted all their actions and called the bluffs of the Military as no previous President has done before and came out unscathed. And hands on hips she says: "Hanggang d'yan lang pala kayo!" At tameme ang lahat.

You cannot take GMA out by media and pr hype. The Palace is good in that. You cannot do her in by the legal way and the illegal way will take a lot courage that nobody has. And she has beat everybody in saying that God wants her to stay.

If the country is to be saved it will come in the way and time nobody can anticipate and from a source nobody knows. God bless the Philippines.

Juan said...


On the Catholic Church classified as NGO by the State to define its relationship in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Constitution:

a)it, in effect, takes and promotes a position in a wider, or atleast, a parallel context of the issue: institutional secularism vs religious fundamentalism.

b)does Church-NGO, in that context, translates as Non-God Organization? secularizing the State's treatment of the Church?

c)on the other hand, how would that affect the Church's treatment of the State? as a God-less state?

d)the preammble invokes the help of the Almighty, but how should the State be open to it if the State is closed to a relationship with the Church as Church?