News Release

BYU, UP, PCID Hold 3rd International Forum on Law and Religion

Theme: Is Religious Freedom Still Considered a Fundamental Human Right?

The University of the Philippines Bonifacio Global City Campus was packed on Wednesday morning, 31 July 2019, as legal experts, lawyers, academic scholars, religious leaders, law students, and religious freedom advocates converged to participate in the 3rd International Forum on Law and Religion.

 Photos: International Forum on Law and Religion

The annual symposium, which is a first of its kind in the Philippines, centered around this year’s theme Is Religious Freedom Still Considered a Fundamental Human Right?

Professor Gary B. Doxey, Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, opened the forum with a keynote message entitled Religious Freedom and the Equal Human Dignity of All.

In his message to over 250 participants present, the former associate general counsel to the Utah Legislature emphasized the importance of protecting religious liberty.

“We can strengthen religious freedom by reinvigorating our discussion of the equal dignity of all human beings,” he said.

Prof. Doxey then illustrated the decline of religious freedom by describing challenges that are occurring across the globe. He cited that unjust separation of families, killings, slavery, religious discrimination and lack of respect are just a few of what he called the ‘global decline of religious freedom’.

He pointed out that the intention is not to name and blame countries and organizations that are involved but to iterate that religious persecution is far from being over.

“It’s a very real crisis,” he said. “Religious freedom decline is real. We need to do something about it.” Prof. Doxey then listed some points on why we need to fight for the said freedom.

“The ability to enjoy religious freedom protects and strengthens other civil and political rights.” To illustrate this, he compared it to a tree, with religious freedom as the root that needs to be nourished for it to bear fruit and have people enjoy it.

In addition to this comparison, he pointed out that such freedom provides protection for the valuable contributions of religion to society. He continued by saying, “Religion has motivated many moral advances in society, such as the elimination of slavery and civil rights. What is known to be secular freedom started because we were free to practice our religion.”

Prof. Doxey concluded by saying, “We might be different, but we have one thing we have in common - respect for one another rooted from religious belief. We have a strong sense that we are equal despite our diversity in culture and religion.”

Professor Doxey is one of three plenary session speakers at the said conference. Ambassador Michel Goffin of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in Manila spoke about Religion and Challenges to Social Cohesion during the mid-afternoon plenary session.

At the start of his message, Ambassador Goffin shared that religion is important in order to understand how society can stabilize. 

"Religion, tolerance, and acceptance are indicators of social cohesion," he said.

A true believer in UN and multilateral affairs, the ambassador shared examples that explained why the line of true separation between religion and state remains vague.

"Separation of religion and governance is probably a very complex issue," he said. "But there's one thing we can focus on ... that is FORB. Freedom of Religion or Belief is really the base for every society to be able to live together. There is an absolute essential dimension in any country. FORB has to be ensured. It is not complicated. It's not complex. It's just essential."

The Belgian ambassador also expressed the need to consider different degrees of religious liberty, such as the right to change religion. 

Ambassador Goffin iterated, "Freedom of religion is not just a right that you can either have or not have in your society. It's linked to all fundamental rights a society should abide including gender equality and freedom of expression."

Ambassador Goffin concluded that absolute separation of government and religion is not the key to stability. Although he expressed that such is ideal, he advised that there are many approaches that should not be pursued. 

He closed his message by reaffirming his commitment to pursue freedom of religion or belief before his diplomatic assignments in different countries end. "This is an essential dimension for the stability of societies," he said.

Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) gave the closing plenary session. Her message focused on the Interface of Law and Religion, particularly in the Philippine context.  She shared examples of court cases wherein the free exercise of religious beliefs were handled by the courts and how the justice system protected it. 

"Our Constitution ensures and mandates an unconditional tolerance without regard to whether those who seek to profess their faith belong to the majority or to the minority. It is emphatic in saying that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship shall be without discrimination or preference," Commissioner Gana pointed out. 

The focal commissioner of the Policy Office of the CHR closed her message by emphasizing that religious beliefs are a major part of the lives of Filipinos which are manifested in the customs, behaviors, and practices of its people.

"From these, the Philippines' policy is one of tolerance and non-discrimination for religious beliefs unless they will bring harm to the common good and for which the state can intervene."

Commissioner Gana reiterated that the right to worship or believe remains a universal human right.  

Six special sessions were conducted where speakers shared their expertise on different topics.

Morning Session

      Topic 1: Governance and Piety

Resource Speakers:   

  • Dr. Edmund S. Tayao, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF)
  • Dr. Socorro Reyes, Ph.D., the Senior Regional Governance Adviser for the Center for Legislative Liaison
  • Professor Darwin J. Absari, a Lecturer and Researcher at the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines       

Topic 2: Freedom of Expression and Blasphemy

Resource Speakers:

  • Atty. Neri S. Colmenares, President of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
  • Ms. Tess Bacalla, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Press Alliance

Topic 3: Freedom of Worship and Apostasy

Resource Speakers: 

  • Mr. Marc Viestraete-Verlinde, Counsellor of the European Union Delegation to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam
  • Dr. Al Makin, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Research and Community Development at the Sunnan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
  • Prof. Gary B. Doxey, Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah

Afternoon Session

Topic 4:  Law and Religion in Southeast Asia: Challenges, Collision and Interface

Resource Speakers: 

  • Dr. Al Makin 
  • Hon. Amina R. Bernardo, President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy
  • Ms. Alma R. Jimenez, Executive Vice President of the ASEAN Society Philippines

Topic 5: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Resource Speakers:

  • Atty. Mikhail Lee Maxino, Director for the Jovito Salonga Center for Law and Development at the Silliman University
  • Dr. Brian Gozun, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Business at the De La Salle University-Manila

Topic 6: Does Religiosity Breed Intolerance? 

Resource Speakers: 

  • Father Angel Calvo, President, Peace Advocates Zamboanga
  • Dr. Jenny Lind Elmaco, Ph.D., Secretary-General of the Association for Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia
  • Atty. Nasser Marohomsalic, the former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights

Other speakers in the forum included Prof. Elizabeth Pulumbarit, Director of the Paralegal Program of the University of the Philippines Law Center, who gave the welcome remarks on behalf of Dean Fides Cordero Tan of the UP College of Law. 

Atty. Carlo Vistan II, Director of the Office of Legal Aid of the University of the Philippines, gave the forum summation. 

The International Forum on Law and Religion is an annual symposium organized by Brigham Young University Law School, University of the Philippines College of Law, and the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.

The IFLR seeks to provide an avenue for legal experts, academic scholars, and religious freedom advocates to share their knowledge and expertise on religious freedom issues as well as its challenges and opportunities to help balance religious liberties and individual rights.

The 2nd IFLR was held last year with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who gave the keynote address.

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