Atheists Condemn Philippines's biased "Magna Carta of Religious Freedom"

On March 24th, 2021, House Bill No: 6538, otherwise known as "The Magna Carta of Religious Freedom", was approved by Philippine lawmakers. Authored by Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva and Representative Domingo Rivera, this bill was first approved on December 2nd, 2020, subject to amendments. Later in January, House Bill 8469 was filed by Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Ray "LRay" Villafuerte Jr., incorporating measures to the amended bill.



The bill is supposed to "create enabling laws that will protect the rights of our citizens to religious freedom which, in turn, will further bring peace and stability to our nation," as stated by the Philippine House of Representatives' Committee on Human Rights. Yet, instead of protecting the right to practice religion, this bill is dangerously biased in favor of religious groups over humanists and other non-religious people.

House Bill 8469 protects multiple rights regarding practicing religion, including the right to choose a religion or religious groups, right to exercise or express religious beliefs and practices, right to propagate religious beliefs, right to freedom against discrimination, etc. The bill has also included amendments like discarding "prohibition of same-sex marriage, and marriage of humans to animals and objects."

The bill, however, also disregards humanists and the contribution of human rights movements. The bill unethically promotes religious 'high ground' over the non-religious masses. One of the articles states that several significant moral advances in the history of humanity, like the worldwide abolition of slavery, "have been initiated by religious principles…and religious preaching…not secular ethics."

A coalition of Philippine humanist and secular organizations consisting of Humanist Alliance Philippines (HAPI), International, Philippine Atheism, Agnosticism, and Secularism Inc. (PATAS), and Atheist Republic – Metro Manila Consulate (ARMMC), has jointly condemned the bill for its’ favoritism towards the religious entities. According to the coalition, the clause of 'the Right to Profess Religious Belief' can give way to hate speech and discrimination against minorities like the LGBTQIA+ or the atheist community. The coalition also condemned the 'right' for religious corporations to be exempted from taxes.

"If this ‘Magna Carta of Religious Freedom’ becomes a law, it will endanger the lives of many people, not only the non-religious, but even civil groups," said Javan Lev Poblador, Chief Executive of HAPI. Lillie Ashworth, Advocacy Officer of Humanists International shared, "The bill may have repercussions for humanist organizations and activists, as well as broader civil society in the Philippines, who are already forced to operate in an increasingly authoritarian environment marked by repressive 'red-tagging' practices and the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation."

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