Published 8 December 2023, The Daily Tribune

There is a fine line to tread between Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code on Offending Religious Feelings and Article 201 on Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows.

Article 133 punishes “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.”

Hence, for an act to fall within the ambit of Article 133, the pivotal points are: (a) whether the act is notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful; and (b) when and where the act was committed.

If the act was committed in a place dedicated to religious worship, it could qualify as a crime regardless of the conduct of a religious ceremony. As such, if it were done during a religious ceremony, it would be considered a crime anywhere it was committed.

Notwithstanding, not everything blasphemous is unlawful. While there is no definite yardstick in determining what “notoriously offensive” is, as a rule, the act must be tainted with deliberate intent to hurt the feelings of the faithful and must be directed against religious practice, dogma, or ritual for the purpose of ridicule, such as mocking or scoffing or attempting to damage an object of religious veneration.

In People vs. Baes (G.R. No. L-46000, 25 May 1939), it was held that “whether or not the act complained of is offensive to the religious feelings of Catholics is a question of fact which must be judged only according to the feelings of Catholics and not of other faithful ones.”

Under Article 201 of the RPC, the crime of immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows are committed by, among others: (1) those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals; (2) xxx (b) Those who, in theaters, fairs, cinematographs or any other place, exhibit indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, whether live or in film, which are prescribed by virtue hereof, shall include those which xxx (iii) offend any race or religion xxx.

As can be gleaned, Article 201 is a blanket provision as it is more encompassing than Article 133 as it covers all immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows that may offend any religion, among others, anywhere and at any time it was committed.

Some will be quick to raise freedom of expression as a defense. Our longstanding history has witnessed the dilemma where others equate the display of freedom of expression as an attack on their religion, while the practice of a religion can be held to constrain expression. Ultimately, it must be noted that the freedoms of religion and expression, though fundamental and deemed constitutionally and internationally protected rights, are not absolute.

In fine, let us be steered by the adage, “Your right ends when the rights of others begin.” This is especially true in our jurisdiction, as enshrined in the Civil Code, “every person must, in the exercise of his rights and the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.”

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