Manila, 17 September 2016—The Office of General Counsel and Public Affairs Department of the Philippines Area of the Church of Latter-day Saints hosted a symposium on freedom of religion on Saturday. During his welcome remarks, Mr. Vic Taylor, Legal Counsel of the Church of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines, emphasized the contributions of religion to society. He noted that religion can mediate government powers, provides service to communities, has the potential of being a community-builder, counters the message of consumerism, and even serves as a foundation for democracy and prosperity.
Speakers during the event included Ms. Jo Imbong, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Legal Office; Dr. Potre D. Dirampatan-Diampuan, United Religion Initiative’s SEAPac Coordinator and Representative; and Mr. Miguel Valdez, Philippines Area Director for Seminaries and Institutes of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Ms. Imbong highlighted the importance of freedom and religion stating that, “Religion requires freedom in order to be authentic… Societies lacking in full religious liberty are also lacking in limits to state powers.” She then proceeded to outline relevant Philippine jurisprudence to demonstrate how the courts have dealt with issues concerning religious freedom, relying on the doctrine of “benevolent neutrality-accommodation.” She also commended Filipinos overseas who have made headlines and changed mindsets by refusing to perform tasks that countered their religious convictions, at the risk of losing their jobs.
Dr. Dirampatan-Diampuan thereafter gave her perspective on Islam and religious freedom. She spoke on radical religious extremism, pointing to religion’s political resurgence and continuing and increasing repression as contributing factors. Citing the findings of “Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam,” she stated that Islam is a misunderstood religion. The publication found that, among Catholics surveyed in the US, nearly one in three (30%) responded that they have either “very” or “somewhat” unfavourable views of Muslims. Nearly half (45%) of those surveyed believe Islam “encourages violence more than other religions around the world.” Almost half of those surveyed could not name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities. Dr. Dirampatan-Diampuan thus emphasized the need to encounter and get to know people of different faiths, in the process learning commonalities between different beliefs.
Mr. Valdez, speaking on how to promote freedom of religion, emphasized the need to educate oneself and to learn to speak with courage and civility. He reminded participants to engage in practices that promote religious freedom in their professions and community as well as support organisations that promote religious freedom. He lastly emphasized the need to support and promote fairness by letting it guide one’s treatment of others and standing up for fairness on behalf of other people.