EBRALINAG VS DIVISION SUPERINTENDENT
Two special civil actions for certiorari, Mandamus and Prohibition were filed and consolidated for raising same issue. Petitioners allege that the public respondents acted without or in excess of their jurisdiction and with grave abuse of discretion. Respondents ordered expulsion of 68 HS and GS students of Bantayan, Pinamungajan, Caracar, Taburan and Asturias in Cebu. Public school authorities expelled these students for refusing to salute the flag, sing the national anthem and recite the “Panatang Makabayan” required by RA1265. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses believing that by doing these is religious worship/devotion akin to idolatry against their teachings. They contend that to compel transcends constitutional limits and invades protection against official control and religious freedom. The respondents relied on the precedence of Gerona et al v. Secretary of Education. Gerona doctrine provides that we are a system of separation of thechurch and state and the flag is devoid of religious significance and it doesn’t involve any religious ceremony. The freedom of religious belief guaranteed by the Constitution does not mean exception from non-discriminatory laws like the saluting of flag and singing national anthem. This exemption disrupts school discipline and demoralizes the teachings of civic consciousness and duties of citizenship. Issue: Whether or Not religious freedom has been violated.
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, 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. Since they do not engage in disruptive behavior, there is no warrant for their expulsion. 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." Absent such a threat to public safety, the expulsion of the petitioners from the schools is not justified. We are not persuaded that by exempting the Jehovah's Witnesses, this religious 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. After all, what the petitioners seek only is exemption from the flag ceremony, not exclusion from the public schools where they may study the Constitution, the democratic way of life and form of government, and learn not only the arts, science, Philippine history and culture but also receive training for a vocation or profession and be taught the virtues of "patriotism, respect for human rights, appreciation for national heroes, the rights and duties of citizenship, and moral and spiritual values. 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 duly constituted authorities. 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. While the highest regard must be...
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