A protester waltzes in while a mass is ongoing, shouts at some bishops and displays a placard. His act of defiance had a thespian air as he was even in period costume. Has a crime been committed? It would appear so, at least as far as the statute books go. Art. 133 of the Revised Penal Code provides:
“ARTICLE 133. Offending the religious feelings. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
But it does contain a subjective test that some defense lawyers may have a field day over, that the acts must be “notoriously offensive” to the “feelings of the faithful.”
Based on jurisprudence, the acts must be directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule, as mocking or scoffing at or attempting to damage an object of religious veneration (Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book II (1981), p. 75. Please see also People vs. Tecson as cited in Padilla, Criminal Law, Book II (1976), p. 171). Would asking priests to stay out of politics and reproductive measures qualify? Or is calling priests “Damaso” the hypocrite friar in one of the national hero’s books fall within what is prohibited by law?
Believe it or not, but there are actual cases on this provision of law as when the following was found to be notoriously offensive and criminal: (1) when a rock was thrown at a minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo while he was preaching and (2) when remarks were made that Christ was called the Anti-Christ, that the Church marked by a demon and that the Pope is the Commander of Satan (Ibid., citing People vs. Migallos, CA-G.R.NO. 13619-R, Aug.5, 1955 and People vs. Mandorio). However, it was found that there is no such offense in an instance where a Protestant maligned the Pope as a Catholic procession was passing through near the house where they were having a meeting (Ibid., citing People v. Gesulga, pp. 75-76). And entering an assembly of a congregation which was having chapel services while drunk and attempting to grab the song leader is only unjust vexation (Ibid. citing People vs. Nanoy).
It should be noted, however, that the offense is judged from the point of view of the complainant, and not that of the offender. As held by the Court in one case, “whether or not the act complained of is offensive to the religious feelings of the Catholics, is a question of fact which must be judged only according to the feelings of the Catholics and not those of other faithful ones, for it is possible that certain acts may offend the feelings of those who profess a certain religion, while not otherwise offensive to the feelings of those professing another faith.” PEOPLE vs. BAES, [G.R. No. 46000. May 25, 1939.]
This boils down to the ageless debate on whether freedom of expression trumps the rights of other people to have peaceful meetings, even religious ones. Does freedom of expression occupy a higher rung over that of worshippers exercising their freedom of religion?
There are worse crimes than holding up placards at a mass. But there is a degree of polite discourse we may all wish to maintain where we can disagree without being disagreeable, when dialogue should be paramount over threats of excommunication and where faith must meet with what the people need to contend with every day. The tour guide may have had a valid message to convey, but there are venues and appropriate times for such protests. Should it be done during a time of prayer, when we have so much to pray for now? The courts will say whether he should be criminally liable. But in terms of civility, he is clearly guilty of lacking it.