This article follows from a prior article about the Catholic Church that questioned Church involvement in Philippine politics without the Public having any way of holding the Church accountable for its acts. The Church is not an elected or appointed agency, but is deeply engaged in influencing elected representatives and constructing Philippine laws and values for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It has more clout than your ordinary influence peddler.
Given the Church's aggressive commentary on the HR Bill, I wonder how far priests are allowed to go to threaten citizens who support the Bill.
The question in this article is how to define what speech is allowed under free speech. At one end of the spectrum is complete freedom of speech. Under unrestricted freedom, we would be allowed to walk into a public theater and shout "fire", or onto the airplane ramp and shout "any bombs on board?" We would be allowed to call other people names, or even lie about them. Accusing them of being prostitutes, for example, if they look at us the wrong way. We would be able to show porn on public television.
Well, no, no. That is not what we mean by free speech. That is irresponsible.
Then there is the other extreme. The Syrian end of the spectrum, or the Chinese. If you tweet a remark the State does not like, you could find yourself locked up or tortured or dead. Or take the Iranian model of free speech.
No, no. That is not what we want. That is not free at all.
Somewhere along the continuum of high restrictions and "anything goes" is a line. Or, rather, a series of lines. The lines are laws that define what is permissible without harming others. Slander, libel, security restrictions (airports), obscenity. These are lines. Obscenity has subordinate lines. What is allowed for children, for example, and something more liberal for adults.
It is tricky business.
Should an Occupy Wall Street protestor be allowed to shout "Down with Big Business!"? Should he be allowed to shout "Kill all CEO's!"? Should he be allowed to shout "Death to America!"?
Flag burning is not illegal in the United States. It is an accepted expression of opposition. It is illegal in the Philippines. In the U.S, interpretive renditions of the National Anthem are allowed; in the Philippines, the song must be sung as a march. Different national sensitivities draw lines differently.
The trick is to define where one person's freedoms or well-being are threatened by another's exercise of free speech. An insecure nation sees danger everywhere, and suppresses more expressions.
The U.S. is among the most confident and open of nations. Still, questions abound. Is it an exercise in free speech to block access to a port, as the Occupy people are doing in some U.S. ports? Or is that acceptably benign civic disobedience? Or is it stage 1 of anarchy, with mobs defining what is right and wrong?
In the US, the court system is actively ruling on such matters daily, establishing the "case law" that supplements written laws formulated by government agencies.
But in the Philippines, the courts are tied up with 300,000 backlogged cases. Courts are inefficient and perhaps bound to allegiances other than law. That is, to personal favor or cash.
Case law is not as elaborate or as rigorous as that found in the U.S.
Can a Muslim in the Philippines shout "Death to infidels!"? I don't know. I'm sure Muslims have no idea, but could justify shouting it with no conscience about how it would impact the lives of good people.
Catholics may be included within that definition of "infidel". Or me, as an American. I may be considered a death target. The object of the death threat. Is that okay, in a land of cheap murder-for-hire?
Are Filipinos allowed to shout "Death to America!"? Are they allowed to shout "Death to Americans", which is specific toward people walking in the Philippines today. Is the Philippines different than Iran, for instance? Are they allowed to threaten me with a gun, as did a drunk neighbor a couple of months ago? ("No" is the answer to that question; PNP officers were on that guy like a flea on a mangy Filipino dog.)
Is it ever permissible to incite violence toward groups of people, or individuals? Are Syrian protestors permitted to defy bans on assembly? To throw rocks at police? To shoot back?
If I say the Catholic Church is wrong on its stance on the HR Bill, are priests allowed to consign my soul to Hell for eternity?
It is a threat, for sure. Not simply death on this planet, but punishment worse than death for all eternity.
Does the Catholic Church have to respect people of other faiths, or non-believers? Or can it wave the threat of Hell beyond death, like a 45 caliber pistol, in my face. Can it wave that particular weapon in the face of the President? Of congressional representatives who vote on the Nation's well-being?
Am I allowed to consign a priest to Hell? Or all priests?
Or am I expected to be a little more sensitive, a little more merciful, a little more respectful?