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The House approves a bill encouraging religious freedom.

On its third and final reading, the House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill preserving religious freedom in the nation.

The proposed Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Act, or House Bill 6492, seeks to forbid the government or anyone to burden, curtail, impinge, or encroach on a person’s right to exercise his or her religious belief, freedom, and liberty of conscience, was approved by the chamber with 256 votes in favor, one against, and three abstentions.

The measure’s sponsor, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., claimed that Section 5 of Article III of the Constitution, which states that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed,” upholds the right to freedom of religion or belief.

“HB 6492 ensures that no act of the government or any of its agencies, instrumentalities, officers or employees shall burden, curtail, impinge or encroach on the person’s right to exercise one’s religion, freedom, and liberty of conscience,” he said. “The government must also prohibit any act by a person, natural or legal, or any group of persons that burdens or encroaches on the said right.”

The bill states that, except in specific circumstances, no one’s right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, or liberty of conscience may be denied, burdened, or restricted, even if it results from the general applicability of existing laws.

Only if it leads to violence, puts other people in danger, causes them physical harm, or violates their own freedom of religion or conscience, as well as when it’s necessary to safeguard the public’s health, property, morals, and safety, would the free exercise of religion be denied, regulated, or restricted.

The bill mandates the protection of every person’s right to exercise or express their religious beliefs, practices, acts, or activities, the right to act in accordance with their conscience, the right to spread religious ideas and publications, the right to engage in religious worship and ceremonies, the right to organizational independence, and the right against employment discrimination.

Additionally, it shall support the freedom from discrimination in educational settings, the freedom of enterprises to be based on religious principles, the freedom of parents or other adult guardians to raise children, and the freedom from taxation.

It lists actions that restrict or infringe upon a person’s right to practice their religion, including compelling someone to act against their religious beliefs or conscience through coercion, threats, intimidation, or other unfair means; defaming, harassing, or offending someone because of their religious beliefs or the practice of those beliefs; and other similar actions.

The proposed law’s provisions can be violated by paying fines ranging from PHP50,000 to PHP2,000,000 or by being imprisoned for six years and one day to ten years, depending on the offense and the perpetrator.

The proposed legislation also requires the Secretary of the Department of Justice to create, manage, and advertise a toll-free number that would be used to answer questions and give timely, accurate information about the rights that are protected by the act.

Representatives from Camarines Sur Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., Miguel Luis Villafuerte, Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata, and Gabriel Bordado Jr. are also co-authors of the bill, as are Representatives Nicolas Enciso VIII from the BICOL SARO Party-list, Eduardo Villanueva from the CIBAC Party-list, Noel Rivera from Tarlac, Bai Dimple Mastura from Maguindan

On the first day of its session after a one-month Christmas holiday, the House, led by Speaker Martin Romualdez, passed a number of bills, including HB 6492.

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