Avoid offending religious sensibilities
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-04-15
Some of the bitterest conflicts in history were rooted to religious issues. Religious conflicts are also some of the hardest to heal. They have the tendency to become deeply rooted to a people’s culture and mindset. In our country, we’ve seen the reconciliation of political conflicts but we have yet to end once and for all the deeply rooted and mutually maintained distrust between Christians and Muslims.

The thought of fighting for God can easily turn the head of a zealot and drive one to extremism. There is wisdom in the banning of religious prejudice in the US, although this law appeared to have been applied to a counterproductive extreme. It’s a good idea to promote religious tolerance and eliminate prejudice based on religious affiliation. However, what the US did was to practically ban God altogether. No good can eventually come from that.

The photo of a sexily attired tourist who posed on the cross where Christ imitators were crucified, stirred the Easter celebration on social media. Reactions ranged from expressing charges of improper behavior to sacrilege — revealing the extent of religious fervor. On this issue, there is reason to sanction the violator of religious sensibility. No matter what religious group you belong to, even if you happen to be an atheist — plain common sense would tell you not to violate the religious sensibilities of your hosts. Do that in an Islamic country and you’ll face far greater reactions than censure in social media.

Before the Holy Week, the hot item was the court case of two senior students of St. Theresa’s College (STC) in Cebu who were barred from the school’s graduation rites for posting their photos on social media that showed them wearing a bikini. Guided by conservative Catholic norms, the STC Student’s Handbook has clear and specific guidelines on how its students are to behave in and off campus. The bikini-wearing seniors went to a beach outing. One of them was holding a liquor bottle and a cigarette, another point of issue.

The parents of the affected STC seniors sought legal remedies and the case went to the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 19, under Judge Wilfredo Velasco. The parents claimed that the photos were posted on Facebook, which is accessible only to selected persons, friends and kin. They also claimed that their children were never given due process, a way of thinking that Chief Justice Renato Corona’s lead defender, Serafin Cuevas, made fashionable during the on-going impeachment trial.

The RTC granted a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) that would effectively prevent STC from barring the two seniors from attending the graduation ceremonies. The court order didn’t faze the STC nuns and administrators. The barred seniors were not allowed to join the graduation rites. The STC nuns must have thought that the worst that can happen to them is martyrdom, and that’s a career objective.

My friend and neighbor, Atty. Romy Macalintal, shared with me his insights to this controversy. Romy opines that students should protect the good name of the school in or off-campus. “The legal issue is whether or not the school authorities could impose disciplinary actions on these students considering that their acts of posting or uploading their photos in their Facebook accounts were done outside the school premises and beyond school hours,” he said.

He added: “The case of Angeles vs. Sison, decided by the Supreme Court on February 16, 1982, may guide the concerned schools and the parents of the disciplined students in resolving their differences. While the Angeles case involved the disciplinary action imposed on a student who physically assaulted a professor outside the school premises, the ruling of the Supreme Court in that case may also apply to the questioned conduct of the students in posting their photos in their Facebook accounts which their school authorities regarded as immoral or affected the good name and reputation of these Catholic schools.”

Per Romy, “the Supreme Court sustained the power of the school authorities to discipline their students even if the complained act was committed outside the school premises.” Romy cited more from the High Court’s ruling: “Common sense dictates that the school retains its power to compel its students in or off-campus to a norm of conduct compatible with their standing as members of the academic community. Hence, when the conduct complained of directly affects the suitability of the alleged violators as students, there is no reason why the school can not impose the same disciplinary action as when the act took place inside the campus.”

“Furthermore, the true test of a school’s right to investigate, or otherwise, suspend or expel a student for a misconduct committed outside the school premises and beyond school hours is not the time or place of the offense, but its effect upon the morale and efficiency of the school and whether it, in fact, is adverse to the school’s good order welfare and the advancement of its students. The power of the school over its students does not cease absolutely when they leave the school premises, and that conduct outside of school hours may subject a student to school discipline if it directly affects the good order and welfare of the school or has a direct and immediate effect on the discipline or general welfare of the school.” Romy further quoted the High Court ruling.

On this issue of the disbarred STC seniors, my sympathy goes to the parents who were naturally disappointed that their girls were not able to attend the graduation rites. However, taking the larger perspective to this issue, my opinion would be very similar to the insights of my neighbor Romy Macalintal.

The parents cannot avoid accepting the STC standard when they enrolled their girls there. That would include STC’s guidelines on what are considered as obscene behavior. When they chose STC for their girls’ education, they effectively entered into a covenant with STC for their children to be developed according to the STC norm. This is the equivalent of the “For better or for worse” vow in marriage. This guideline of STC isn’t unique to STC but is commonly practiced by other Catholic schools.

These disappointed parents of the STC students should take the lead in bringing their girls to move on from this episode. What they just underwent will not matter at all after a few months. What will matter is what these students make of their lives from hereon.

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  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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