The freedom of speech of Iglesia ni Cristo members must be respected
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Evelyn Beatrice Hall, British writer and Voltaire’s most famous biographer
Just when many thought that the controversy within Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is already fading from the public’s view, everything seems to have made a turn for the worse this week. The latest episode in this saga began when the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Secretary leila de Lima announced that it will be investigating the serious illegal detention case filed by expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr.
Last August 27, 1000 INC members staged a rally at the DOJ main office in Padre Faura, Manila to protest what they described as the government’s meddling on their internal affairs and infringement of their religious freedom. The following night, a much bigger crowd of INC followers trooped to the intersection of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard to continue their protest.
Their timing couldn’t get any worse as far as commuters are concerned because August 28 marks the beginning of the three-day weekend (it is also a payday for most employees). Naturally, many netizens expressed their frustrations over social media – with their ire mostly directed against members of the INC.
This situation can only be understood using the so-called “balancing of interest test.” In this case, there are two competing interests: the freedom of speech and right to assemble of INC members on one hand and the welfare of commuters on the other.
There’s no doubt that EDSA commuters are in the majority since they vastly outnumber INC protesters. However, the rights of the minority cannot be disregarded just because more people oppose it. Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution states that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
In fact, in invalidating then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s policy of calibrated preemptive response against anti-government demonstrations (Bayan vs. Ermita, 2006), the Supreme Court sustained “the primacy of freedom of speech and to assemble over comfort and convenience in the use of streets and parks.” The High Court explained that these rights enjoys primacy in the realm of constitutional protection because without these, “all the other rights would be meaningless and unprotected.”
So far, we have conclusively proved that INC members are merely exercising their freedom of speech and right to peaceably assemble. At this point, let’s turn our attention to the substance of what they are protesting about. Is their religious freedom being violated because the government is investigating their organization?
That point of view is misguided. If the issue is just about an internal power struggle, then they would have been right. But the thing is, the accusations being hurled are downright criminal offenses including abductions, serious illegal detentions, as well as claims of torture. Hence, the government’s investigation must proceed at all cost to truly determine the truth.
And with all due respect, this issue should not be turned into a debate between religions because it is not. If members of other denominations like the Catholic hierarchy have committed crimes and there are strong basis for the government to investigate, why not? However, that’s not the matter at hand.
PS: Many dislike INC because of its constant criticism of other religions, particularly through its media platforms. What’s wrong with that?
In reality, you’ll be hard-pressed to name one denomination that does not put down others. That is not surprising because doing that is one sure means for them to gain new adherents.