Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Freedom of Assembly and the Religious Services

If we consider the Catholic Church to be equivalent to a "Non Government Organization (NGO)" under the 1987 Constitution, then we are forced to the conclusion that the Catholic Mass is equivalent to Mass Demonstrations such as those daily conducted by activist groups, party lists or other cause advocates. All such activities are first order forms of Free Speech and are specifically covered by the Freedom of Assembly. In addition, religious services are covered by the Bill of Rights provisions on Religion.

The Bill of Rights Art. III Sec. 5 of the 1987 Constitution declares--
(5a) No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. (Principle of State Neutrality)
(5b) The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. (Principle of Equal Liberty)
(5c) No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Principle of Secular Morality)
It would not constitute legitimate exercise of free speech, in my opinion, if persons not allied with an organization that was conducting such a mass demonstration, were to demand a place on the stage or in the proceedings just by showing up, and then unfurl some symbol or message that could cause tumult or disorder. For example anti-communist activists like ANAD have no legitimate place in a Bayan Muna rally if they want to display slogans against JoMa or the NPA. But they may do so at their own rally and can expect a similar exclusion of any hypothetical pro-communist activists bent on provoking a confrontation.

Clearly, organizers have a right to police their ranks and their venues to prevent the unruly presence of PROVOCATEURS bent on disturbing the peace. It's like crying "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, especially if provocation leads to a violent confrontation. Such persons however, have an equal right to make their own mass demonstration, and there engage in their own free speech.


Jego said...

Not only do they have a right, they have a duty to prevent unwanted elements from crashing their assembly. The cops can't do it. In fact the cops won't do it and even take an active part in disassembling a peaceful assembly if the needs of the State so dictate. (The cops are agents of the State, not agents of the people.)

You raise an interesting point re the case of tour guide Carlos Celdran. Clearly he disrupted a peaceful assembly, but he did so without doing harm to person or property. He was alone. He was unarmed. He just offended people. The assembled had a right to remove him physically from the assembly, but in my opinion, the State is acting immorally if it pursues a case wherein Celdran's freedom is suspended for up to 2 and a half years for merely offending people. The law should be changed. If I were king I'd strike the jail time from the Code, and replace it with a fine, or equivalent community service if unable to pay.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Law is strange. If Carlos Celdran were a public official or a govt employee, or if any of the latest Manila Cathedral demonstrators are, they would have committed a crime under Art. 132 of the RPC. It's a strange crime because it can ONLY be committed by a govt employee or official. Why do you think that might be? It sort of implies that it's okay for civilians to do it as long as they don't break any other law. Suppose a Sacristan interrupts a Mass to expose the Priest as his tormentor?

Jego said...

Yap, that entire section of the Code where 133 is (Section One) is actually prohibitions against govt officials and employees, which is only right because people need protection against govt. 133 is all the more anomalous because up to 132, it was all about govt employees.