Friday, March 2, 2012

Ebralinag v Cebu G.R. No. 95770 March 1, 1993

J. Grino-Aquino

All the petitioners in these two cases were expelled from their classes by the public school authorities in Cebu for refusing to salute the flag, sing the national anthem and recite the patriotic pledge as required by Republic Act No. 1265 and DECS Department Order No. 8 which stipulated compulsory flag ceremonies in all educational institutions.
Jehovah's Witnesses admittedly teach their children not to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, and recite the patriotic pledge for they believe that those are "acts of worship" or "religious devotion" which they "cannot conscientiously give . . . to anyone or anything except God"
They consider the flag as an image or idol representing the State. They allege that the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on the State's power and invades the sphere of the intellect and spirit which the Constitution protects against official control.
Gerona, et al. vs. Secretary of Education- In requiring school pupils to participate in the flag salute, the State thru the Secretary of Education is not imposing a religion or religious belief or a religious test on said students. It is merely enforcing a non-discriminatory school regulation applicable to all alike.
Under the Administrative Code of 1987, Any teacher or student or pupil who refuses to join or participate in the flag ceremony may be dismissed after due investigation. (This was due to Gerona)
In 1989, the DECS Regional Office in Cebu received complaints about teachers and pupils belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and enrolled in various public and private schools, who refused to sing the Philippine national anthem, salute the Philippine flag and recite the patriotic pledge.
Cebu school officials resorted to a number of ways to persuade the children of Jehovah's Witnesses to obey the memorandum. In the Buenavista Elementary School, the children were asked to sign an Agreement (Kasabutan) in the Cebuano dialect promising to sing the national anthem, place their right hand on their breast until the end of the song and recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag.
However, things took a turn for the worst. In the Daan Bantayan District, the District Supervisor, Manuel F. Biongcog, ordered the "dropping from the rolls" of students who "opted to follow their religious belief which is against the Flag Salute Law" on the theory that "they forfeited their right to attend public schools."
43 students were subsequently expelled after refusing to sing.
The petition in G.R. No. 95887 was filed by 25 students who were similarly expelled because Dr. Pablo Antopina, who succeeded Susana Cabahug as Division Superintendent of Schools, would not recall the expulsion orders of his predecessor. Instead, he verbally caused the expulsion of some more children of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The petitioning students filed on account of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the respondents in violating their due process and their right to education. They alleged for the nullity of the expulsion or dropping from the rolls of petitioners from their respective schools, prohibiting respondents from further barring the petitioners from their classes, and compelling the respondent and all persons acting for him to admit and order the re-admission of petitioners to their respective schools. They also prayed for a TRO.
On November 27, 1990, the Court issued a temporary restraining order and a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction commanding the respondents to immediately re-admit the petitioners to their respective classes until further orders from this Court.
The OSG commented on the defense of the expulsion orders and claimed that the flag salute was devoid of any religious significance and the State had compelling interests to expel the children.

Issue: Whether school children who are members or a religious sect known as Jehovah's Witnesses may be expelled from school (both public and private), for refusing, on account of their religious beliefs, to take part in the flag ceremony which includes playing (by a band) or singing the Philippine national anthem, saluting the Philippine flag and reciting the patriotic pledge.

Held: No. Petition granted.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right which is entitled to the highest priority and the amplest protection among human rights, for it involves the relationship of man to his Creator
The right to religious profession and worship has a two-fold aspect, vis., freedom to believe and freedom to act on one's belief. The first is absolute as long as the belief is confined within the realm of thought. The second is subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare.
Petitioners stress, however, that while they do not take part in the compulsory flag ceremony, they do not engage in "external acts" or behavior that would offend their countrymen who believe in expressing their love of country through the observance of the flag ceremony. Ie. they stand quietly during the ceremony.
The sole justification for a prior restraint or limitation on the exercise of religious freedom is the existence of a grave and present danger of a character both grave and imminent, of a serious evil to public safety, public morals, public health or any other legitimate public interest, that the State has a right (and duty) to prevent.
We are not persuaded that by exempting the Jehovah's Witnesses from saluting the flag, singing the national anthem and reciting the patriotic pledge, this religious group which admittedly comprises a "small portion of the school population" will shake up our part of the globe and suddenly produce a nation "untaught and uninculcated in and unimbued with reverence for the flag, patriotism, love of country and admiration for national heroes
Expelling or banning the petitioners from Philippine schools will bring about the very situation that this Court had feared in Gerona. Forcing a small religious group, through the iron hand of the law, to participate in a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs, will hardly be conducive to love of country or respect for dully constituted authorities.
Furthermore, let it be noted that coerced unity and loyalty even to the country — assuming that such unity and loyalty can be attained through coercion — is not a goal that is constitutionally obtainable at the expense of religious liberty. A desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means.
Moreover, the expulsion of members of Jehovah's Witnesses from the schools where they are enrolled will violate their right as Philippine citizens, under the 1987 Constitution, to receive free education, for it is the duty of the State to "protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education . . . and to make such education accessible to all
We hold that a similar exemption may be accorded to the Jehovah's Witnesses with regard to the observance of the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs, however "bizarre" those beliefs may seem to others. Nevertheless, their right not to participate in the flag ceremony does not give them a right to disrupt such patriotic exercises. Paraphrasing the warning cited by this Court in Non vs. Dames II, while the highest regard must be afforded their right to the free exercise of their religion, "this should not be taken to mean that school authorities are powerless to discipline them" if they should commit breaches of the peace by actions that offend the sensibilities, both religious and patriotic, of other persons. If they quietly stand at attention during the flag ceremony while their classmates and teachers salute the flag, sing the national anthem and recite the patriotic pledge, we do not see how such conduct may possibly disturb the peace, or pose "a grave and present danger of a serious evil to public safety, public morals, public health or any other legitimate public interest that the State has a right (and duty) to prevent.

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