DOJ not violating INC’s religious freedom - sociologist

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Iglesia ni Cristo followers holding a protest outside the Department of Justice on Friday, August 28, 2015.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A sociologist said on Friday (August 28) that the Justice department did not violate Iglesia ni Cristo's (INC) religious freedom and the doctrine for the separation of church and state.

For Ateneo professor and religion sociologist Jayeel Cornelio, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is merely doing its usual function as a government agency.

The DOJ is set to conduct a preliminary investigation on the illegal detention case filed by former INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. against the religious group's leaders.

“There is a misunderstanding, I think. INC protesters think it's infringement on their religious freedom. But [Justice Secretary Leila] De Lima is consistent in saying that it is not a religious matter,” Cornelio explained.

Related: Malacañan: Gov't not taking "adversarial position" vs. INC

“They can protest if they want to," he said. But he added that "the issue is not religious.”

Thousands of INC members have been picketing in front of the DOJ building along Padre Faura in Manila since Thursday afternoon (August 27), decrying what they call De Lima’s selective persecution of the Iglesia leadership.

Illegal Detention, not Religious at all

Cornelio said the issue of illegal detention is not religious at all.

Cornelio pointed out, “the offense is presumably a criminal case, illegal detention. So whether the organization is religious or not is irrelevant”.

While tensions within the church are internal to them, the professor added those responsible should be held accountable to the justice system. He explained that top INC officials should be liable if an illegal detention of one of its former ministers really happened.

Cornelio said that the INC has power and influence to bring such massive crowd in advancing its agenda.

“It is a religious organization that has attained global influence in just a short period of time.  So it is formidable and admirable,” he added.

Authorities said the crowd at Padre Faura is expected to further swell as they will be staging their protest until Monday.

With more than two million members, INC is the third largest religious denomination in the country after Roman Catholicism and Islam.

Watch: Iglesia ni Cristo's history and influence