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G. Freedom of religion

1. Basic principles

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Section 5, Article III, 1987 Constitution)

The freedom of religion enjoys a preferred status among the rights conferred to each citizen by our fundamental charter. (Valmores v. Achacoso, G.R. No. 217453, 19 July 2017)

Case Law

1) Where a medical student was dismissed after failing to attend Saturday classes on religious grounds as such is the Sabbath day for Seventh day Adventist, it was held that  being made to choose between honoring his religious obligations and finishing his education is a patent infringement of his religious freedoms. (Ibid.)

2) Where a group of protesters was barred from entering St. Jude Chapel for security reasons due to the church being within Malacañang security area, it was held that they were not denied or restrained of their freedom of belief or choice of their religion, but only in the manner by which they had attempted to translate the same into action. (German v. Barangan, En Banc, G.R. No. L-68828, 27 March 1985)

a. Purpose

Freedom of religion was accorded preferred status by the framers of our fundamental law. And this Court has consistently affirmed this preferred status, well aware that it is “designed to protect the broadest possible liberty of conscience, to allow each man to believe as his conscience directs, to profess his beliefs , and to live as he believes he ought to live, consistent with the liberty of others and with the common good.” (Imbong v. Ochoa, En Banc, G.R. Nos. 204819, 204934, 204957, etc., 08 April 2014)

The Filipino people in “imploring the aid of Almighty God” manifested their spirituality innate in our nature and consciousness as a people, shaped by tradition and historical experience. As this is embodied in the preamble, it means that the State recognizes with respect the influence of religion in so far as it instills into the mind the purest principles of morality. (Ibid.)

Religious freedom, however, as a constitutional mandate is not inhibition of profound reverence for religion and is not denial of its influence in human affairs. Religion as a profession of faith to an active power that binds and elevates man to his Creator is recognized. And, in so far as it instills into the minds the purest principles of morality, its influence is deeply felt and highly appreciated. (Aglipay v. Ruiz, En Banc, G.R. No. L-45459, 14 March 1937)

When the Filipino people, in the preamble of their Constitution, implored “the aid of Divine Providence, in order to establish a government that shall embody their ideals, conserve and develop the patrimony of the nation, promote the general welfare, and secure to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence under a regime of justice, liberty and democracy,” they thereby manifested reliance upon Him who guides the destinies of men and nations. The elevating influence of religion in human society is recognized here as elsewhere. (Ibid.)

1) The two (2) guarantees under religious freedom

The constitutional assurance of religious freedom provides two guarantees:

1) The Establishment Clause; and,

2) The Free Exercise Clause. (Imbong v. Ochoa, supra.)

The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses were not designed to serve contradictory purposes. They have a single goal – to promote freedom of individual religious beliefs and practices. In simplest terms, the Free Exercise Clause prohibits government from inhibiting religious beliefs with penalties for religious beliefs and practice, while the Establishment Clause prohibits government from inhibiting religious belief with rewards for religious beliefs and practices. In other words, the two religion clauses were intended to deny government the power to use either the carrot or the stick to influence individual religious beliefs and practices. (Estrada v. Escritor, A.M. No. P-02-1651, 22 June 2006)

b. Concept of religion

The State recognizes the inherent right of the people to have some form of belief system, whether such may be belief in a Supreme Being, a certain way of life, or even an outright rejection of religion. (Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, Holding of Religious Rituals at the Hall of Justice Building in Quezon City, En Banc, A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC, 07 March 2017)

Every person is free to tread the far territories of their conscience, no matter where they may lead – for the freedom to believe and act on one’s own convictions and the protection of such freedom extends to all people, from the theistic to the godless. The State must, as a matter of duty rather than consequence, guarantee that such pursuit remains unfettered. (Valmores v. Achacoso, supra.)

2. Principle of separation of church and state

The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Section 6, Article II, 1987 Constitution)

Consistent with the principle that not any one religion should ever be preferred over another, the Constitution utilizes the term “church” in its generic sense, which refers to a temple, a mosque, an iglesia, or any other house of God which metaphorically symbolizes a religious organization. Thus, the “Church” means the religious congregations collectively. (Imbong v. Ochoa, supra.)

Our history, not to speak of the history of mankind, has taught us that the union of church and state is prejudicial to both, for occasions might arise when the state will use the church, and the church the state, as a weapon in the furtherance of their respective ends and aims. (Aglipay v. Ruiz, En Banc, G.R. No. L-45459, 14 March 1937)

In requiring school pupils to participate in the flag salute, the State thru the Secretary of Education was not imposing a religion or religious belief or a religious test on said students. It was merely enforcing a non-discriminatory school regulation applicable to all alike whether Christian, Moslem, Protestant or Jehovah’s Witness. (Gerona v. Secretary of Education, En Banc, G.R. No. L-13954, 12 August 1959)

The State was merely carrying out the duty imposed upon it by the Constitution which charges it with supervision over and regulation of all educational institutions, to establish and maintain a complete and adequate system of public education, and see to it that all schools aim to develop among other things, civic conscience and teach the duties of citizenship. (Ibid.)

It does nothing more than try to inculcate in the minds of the school population during the formative period of their life, love of country and love of the flag, all of which make for united and patriotic citizenry, so that later in after years they may be ready and willing to serve, fight, even die for it. It is well known that whatever is taught to the youth during this period, such as love of God, of parents, respect for elders, love of the truth, loyalty, honoring one’s word and respecting the rights of other, becomes a habit or second nature that will remain with them always. School children of kingdoms and empires are taught early to respect and love the king or the emperor for these rulers and sovereigns symbolize the nation, and the children as future citizens or subjects will come to love their country. (Ibid.)

Case Law

1) Where students were dismissed after refusing to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, and recite the patriotic pledge, contrary to a Department of Education circular enacted pursuant to a Republic Act, it was held that they were validly dismissed. The Filipino flag is not an image that requires religious veneration; rather it is symbol of the Republic of the Philippines, of sovereignty, an emblem of freedom, liberty and national unity; that the flag salute is not a religious ceremony but an act and profession of love and allegiance and pledge of loyalty to the fatherland which the flag stands for; that by authority of the legislature, the Secretary of Education was duly authorized to promulgate Department Order No. 8, series of 1955; that the requirement of observance of the flag ceremony or salute provided for in said Department Order No. 8, does not violate the Constitutional provision about freedom of religion and exercise of religion; that compliance with the non-discriminatory and reasonable rules and regulations and school disicipline, including observance of the flag ceremony is a prerequisite to attendance in public schools; and that for failure and refusal to participate in the flag ceremony, petitioners were properly excluded and dismissed from the public shcool they were attending. (Ibid.)

3. Non-establishment clause

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion. (Section 5, Article III, 1987 Constitution)

No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium. (Section 29[2], Article VI, 1987 Constitution)

The establishment clause principally prohibits the State from sponsoring any religion or favoring any religion as against other religions. It mandates a strict neutrality in affairs among religious groups. Essentially, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion and the use of public resources for the support or prohibition of a religion. (Imbong v. Ochoa, En Banc, supra.)

The non-establishment clause reinforces the wall of separation between Church and State. It simply means that the State cannot set up a Church; nor pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religion, or prefer one religion over another nor force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion; that the state cannot punish a person for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance; that no tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activity or institution whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt or teach or practice religion; that the state cannot openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organization or group and vice versa. Its minimal sense is that the state cannot establish or sponsor an official religion. (Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, Holding of Religious Rituals at the Hall of Justice Building in Quezon City, supra.)

4. Free exercise clause

a. CONCEPT

The basis of the free exercise clause is the respect for the inviolability of the human conscience. Under this part of religious freedom guarantee, the State is prohibited from unduly interfering with the outside manifestations of one’s belief and faith. (Imbong v. Ochoa, En Banc, supra.)

b. TWO-FOLD NATURE

The two-fold nature of the free exercise clause consists of the following:

1) Feedom to believe; and,

2) Freedom to act. (Centeno v. Villalon-Pornillos, G.R. No. 113092, 01 September 1994)

1) Freedom to believe

The freedom to believe is absolute. (Ibid.)

The realm of belief and creed is infinite and limitless bounded only by one’s imagination and thought. So is the freedom of belief, including religious belief, limitless and without bounds. One may believe in most anything, however strange, bizarre and unreasonable the same may appear to others, even heretical when weighed in the scales of orthodoxy or doctrinal standards. But between the freedom of belief and the exercise of said belief, there is quite a stretch of road to travel. If the exercise of said religious belief clashes with the established institutions of society and with the law, then the former must yield and give way to the latter. The government steps in and either restrains said exercise or even prosecutes the one exercising it. (Gerona v. Secretary of Education, En Banc, G.R. No. L-13954, 12 August 1959)

2) Freedom to act

In the nature of things, the freedom to act cannot be absolute. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society. The freedom to act must have appropriate definitions to preserve the enforcement of that protection. In every case, the power to regulate must be so exercised, in attaining a permissible end, as not to unduly infringe on the protected freedom. (Centeno v. Villalon-Pornillos, supra.)

In a nutshell, the Constitution guarantees the freedom to believe absolutely, while the freedom to act based on belief is subject to regulation by the State when necessary to protect the rights of others and in the interest of public welfare. (Valmores v. Achacoso, supra.)

a) Solicitation

Whence, even the exercise of religion may be regulated, at some slight inconvenience, in order that the State may protect its citizens from injury. Without doubt, a State may protect its citizens from fraudulent solicitation by requiring a stranger in the community, before permitting him publicly to solicit funds for any purpose, to establish his identity and his authority to act for the cause which he purports to represent. The State is likewise free to regulate the time and manner of solicitation generally, in the interest of public safety, peace, comfort, or convenience. (Centeno v. Villalon-Pornillos, supra.)

A law advancing a legitimate governmental interest is not necessarily invalid as one interfering with the “free exercise” of religion merely because it also incidentally has a detrimental effect on the adherents of one or more religion. Thus, the general regulation, in the public interest, of solicitation, which does not involve any religious test and does not unreasonably obstruct or delay the collection of funds, is not open to any constitutional objection, even though the collection be for a religious purpose. Such regulation would not constitute a prohibited previous restraint on the free exercise of religion or interpose an inadmissible obstacle to its exercise. (Ibid.)

To conclude, solicitation for religious purposes may be subject to proper regulation by the State in the exercise of police power. (Ibid.)

c. IN RESOLVING CLAIMS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

1) Test: Compelling state interest

In resolving claims involving religious freedom:

1) Benevolent neutrality or accommodation, whether mandatory or permissive, is the spirit, intent and framework underlying the religion clauses in our Constitution; and,

2) In deciding a case, it is the compelling state interest test which must be applied. (Estrada v. Escritor, supra.)

a) Three-step process

The compelling state interest test involves a three-step process:

1) “Has the statute or government action created a burden on the free exercise of religion?” The courts often look into the sincerity of the religious belief, but without inquiring into the truth of the belief because the Free Exercise Clause prohibits inquiring about its truthl. The sincerity of the claimant’s belief is ascertained to avoid the mere claim of religious beliefs to escape a mandatory regulation.

2) “Is there a sufficiently compelling state interest to justify this infringement of religious liberty?” In this step, the government has to establish that its purposes are legitimate for the state and that they are compelling. Government must do more than assert the objectives at risk if exemption is given; it must precisely show how and to what extent those objectives will be undermined if exemptions are granted. xxx

3) “Hs the state in achieving its legitimate purposes used the least intrusive means possible so that the free exercise is not infringed any more than necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of the state?” The analysis requires the state to show that the means in which it is achieving its legitimate state objective is the least intrusive means, i.e., it has chosen a way to achieve its legitimate state end that imposes as little as possible on religious liberties. (Ibid.)

Case Law

1) Where an administrative case was lodged against a court stenographer for living with a man not her husband and having borne a child, the respondent invoked religious freedom stating that it is in conformity with her religious beliefs and with the approval of her congregation as a member of the Jehova’s Witness and the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society. It was held that, in this particular case and under these distinct circumstances, respondent Escritor’s conjugal arrangement cannot be penalized as she has made out a case for exemption from the law based on her fundamental right to freedom of religion. The Court recognizes that state interests must be upheld in order that freedoms – including religious freedom – may be enjoyed. In the area of religious exercise as a preferred freedom, however, man stands accountable to an authority higher than the state, and so the state interest sought to be upheld must be so compelling that its violation will erode the very fabric of the state that will also protect the freedom. In the absence of a showing that such state interest exists, man must be allowed to subscribe to the Infinite. (Ibid.)

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