Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FVR's Mistaken View of Constitutional Violation

While I was scanning the news, I came across a statement from former President Fidel V. Ramos claiming that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) violated the Constitution in issuing a call not to vote for candidates who support the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. According to Ramos, the CBCP's campaign violates the people's right to freedom of conscience and belief by imposing its view on them.

Conceivably, FVR was referring to freedom of religion or the free exercise clause under Article III, Section 5 of the Constitution, which prohibits the enactment of a law or any governmental act that prevents the free exercise of religion. An elementary principle in constitutional law, however, will show that Ramos's statement is incorrect.

The fundamental rights enumerated in Article III of the Constitution (Bill of Rights) can only be violated when State action or governmental conduct is involved. The Bill of Rights is meant as a check against exercise by the government of its immense powers; as a balance between individual liberty and governmental power. Thus, one will see that the enumeration of rights in Article III are directed against the enactment of laws, law enforcement functions, criminal prosecutions, imposition of penalties, etc., which are within the domain of governmental functions.

The CBCP's statement urging voters not to vote for candidates in favor of the RH Bill does not constitute action by the State. On the contrary, it should be viewed as an exercise by its members of their religious freedom and free speech rights, which are guaranteed in Article III. The very constitutional provision that FVR says the CBCP is violating in fact grants the latter and its members the right to adhere to a particular religious belief (about the claimed immorality of artificial birth control) under the free exercise clause and to express such belief under the free speech clause.

The CBCP, or any other religious group for that matter, has every right to campaign for or against a particular legislation, candidate or governmental action that it deems contrary to the tenets of its religion. The free exercise of religion clause under the Constitution guarantees this right.

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