Immaculate Conception and the separation of Church and State
Today is the Roman Catholics' feast of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In our church, the Parish of the Resurrection of our Lord in BF Homes, Parañaque, where this writer heads the Eucharistic Ministers of Holy Communion, today is a great holiday of obligation. In the government, today is also a non-working regular holiday by virtue of Republic Act 10966 signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on December 28, 2017. The State declaration of a Church feast day had been questioned by my non-Catholic students in the College of Law, whether it constitutes a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of Church and State.
The Philippine Constitution, in Article II, Section 6 provides “the separation of the Church and State shall be inviolable. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The question that should be resolved is whether the declaration of December 8 every year as regular non-working public holiday violates the principle of separation. By so proclaiming, isn't the State in effect “establishing preference” for Roman Catholicism, over and above the other religions like the Protestants, Methodists, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of Jesus of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayans), and the Iglesia ni Cristo, among others?
Well, I told my students if they object to it, they should question the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court. I reminded them that their religious congregations never questioned in the past the declaration of the following Catholic celebrations also as national holidays: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Christmas Day, and the following as special non-working days: Black Saturday, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day. All these are solemn Catholic celebrations. The non-Catholics have been silent and never questioned the same. Thus, they might now be deemed to be under estoppel.
In the past there were attempts to question the acts of government in spending public funds for religious purposes. When the pope came to the Philippines for the first time, the Philippine postal office printed stamps with his face on them. A case was filed questioning the use of public fund for religious purposes and favoring the Catholic Church. The Supreme Court dismissed it because the Pope is not only the head of the Catholic Church all over the world; he is also a head of state of the independent state of the Vatican. There were other similar attempts which were all unsuccessful. Some 87 percent of the Filipinos are Roman Catholics. In a democracy, the majority rules, even as we always respect dissent from the minority.
Separation of Church and State does not mean that the two cannot cooperate with each other, especially when their constituencies are one and the same people, except the minority of non-Catholics, of course.