SC held, "atheist can't express disbelief to deride and wound faithful's feelings"

The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one or the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise, the state and religion would be aliens to each other - hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom oaths- these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." (Estrada vs. Escritor; A.M. No. P-02-1651; June 22, 2006)

Benevolent neutrality recognizes that religion plays an important role in the public life of the United States as shown by many traditional government practices which, to strict neutrality, pose Establishment Clause questions. Among these are the inscription of "In God We Trust" on American currency; the recognition of America as "one nation under God" in the official pledge of allegiance to the flag; the Supreme Court’s time-honored practice of opening oral argument with the invocation "God save the United States and this Honorable Court"; and the practice of Congress and every state legislature of paying a chaplain, usually of a particular Protestant denomination, to lead representatives in prayer. These practices clearly show the preference for one theological viewpoint—the existence of and potential for intervention by a god—over the contrary theological viewpoint of atheism. Church and government agencies also cooperate in the building of low-cost housing and in other forms of poor relief, in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction, in foreign aid and other government activities with strong moral dimension. (Estrada vs. Escritor; A.M. No. P-02-1651; June 22, 2006)
Supreme Court employees also hold first Friday masses within the Court premises. These employees have done so voluntarily during lunch break for years now. This Court has not deemed it necessary to prevent them from doing so. We merely regulate the time and place for the holding of the masses so as to insure that there will be no prejudice to public service. It is worth highlighting that this Court, while it has not prohibited the holding of first Friday masses, has refused to designate one particular room where the masses may be held. These employees are free to hold their masses during lunch break within the Court's premises provided that the area they intend to use is not currently needed for any official Court activity. The Court has, and continues to exercise, the right to regulate the use of rooms within the Court premises for the purpose of these first Friday masses. To me, this practice is an eloquent example of the proper understanding of our Religion Clauses and their narrative within the unique Filipino culture. (Justice Jardeleza's Concurring Opinion; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC - Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, re Holding of Religious Rituals at the Halls of Justice Building in Quezon City)

All these are efforts to recognize the unique role that religion plays in the lives of Filipinos. These efforts do not espouse one particular religion or insist on theism over atheism. These practices are the Court's contribution to giving life to the mandate of the Constitution's Religion Clauses-the creation of space where all religions may exist while at the same time giving the people absolute freedom to believe and practice their faith in the manner they deem proper or to have none at all. (Justice Jardeleza's Concurring Opinion; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC - Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, re Holding of Religious Rituals at the Halls of Justice Building in Quezon City)

Further, this long history of the presence of religion in the conduct of the judiciary's affairs speaks volumes of its perceived effect on the constitutional wall of separation. There is no indication that these practices have led to the establishment of a religion in the judiciary or the mandatory participation of non-Catholics or atheists in religious activities. In the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." (Justice Jardeleza's Concurring Opinion; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC - Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, re Holding of Religious Rituals at the Halls of Justice Building in Quezon City)

These and our consistent jurisprudence all point to the conclusion that the Establishment Clause does not mandate an automatic finding of unconstitutionality whenever the State engages in an activity that has religious undertones. Whether a government practice breaches the wall of separation depends on whether the effect of that practice is to endorse a religion. This analysis then compels us to examine the context of a particular case. (Justice Jardeleza's Concurring Opinion; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC - Re: Letter of Tony Q. Valenciano, re Holding of Religious Rituals at the Halls of Justice Building in Quezon City) The offensiveness of this ritual cannot be obvious to those who belong to this dominant majority religion. It will not be obvious to those who will continuously enjoy the privilege of consistently hosting this in a government building charged with the impartial adjudication of the rule of law. The inability to see how this practice will not square with those who believe otherwise will especially be because religion is a matter of faith. The stronger one's faith is, the more tenacious the belief in the conception of one's god and the correctness of his or her fundamental teachings. It will take great strides in both humility and sensitivity to understand that religious practices within government buildings are offensive to those who do not believe in any of the denominations or sects of Christianity. Those who do believe in a god but do not practice any ritual that worships their supernatural being or their deity will also find the allowance of the full Catholic sacrament of the Holy Eucharist demeaning. Definitely, the sponsorship of these rituals within the halls of justice will not be acceptable to atheists, who fervently believe that there is no god; or to agnostics, who fundamentally believe that the existence of a supernatural and divine being cannot be the subject of either reason or blind faith. As correctly underscored by the Chief Attorney, courts are not simply venues for the resolution of conflict. Our Halls of Justice should symbolize our adherence to the majesty and impartiality of the rule of law. Unnecessary sponsorship of religious rituals undermines the primacy of secular law and its impartiality. It consists of physical manifestations of a specific kind of belief which can best be done in private churches and chapels, not in a government building. There is no urgency that it be done in halls of justice. (Justice Leonardo-De Castro; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC; March 7, 2017)

Escritor was ultimately absolved of the immorality charge against her, but only because the State failed to prove the compelling state interest in overriding her religious freedom. Escritor therefore involved a state policy that was apparently neutral and the question as to whether its consistent application given the ambient facts specific to a religion would violate the adherent's freedom to worship. This is not the situation in this administrative matter. Here, we are asked to create a policy to sponsor religious rituals. There is no neutral state policy we are asked to interpret. We are asked to create a policy to enable a specific religion, and others similarly situated, to conduct their rituals within government space. Escritor involved accommodation or exceptions to a state policy. In this administrative matter, we create a policy that benefits a group of religions that have rituals. It will not benefit believers who do not have public rituals or a deity. It certainly will not benefit all beliefs including those who profess to atheism or agnosticism. Escritor therefore is not the proper precedent. (Justice Leonardo-De Castro; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC; March 7, 2017)

Unfortunately, this is a rationalization which benefits only those who are of the same faith for which the rituals will be conducted. It does not apply to those who do not share in the same beliefs. The non-establishment clause does not protect those that believe in the religion that is favored, privileged, endorsed, or supported. It is supposed to protect those that may be in the minority. The alleged secular purpose of the Holy Mass therefore only benefits Catholics. It does not apply to a Buddhist, a Taoist, an atheist, or an agnostic. Any moralizing effect of religion notwithstanding, religion should correctly remain to be "a private matter for the individual, the family, and the institutions of private choice." As Justice Jardeleza points out, setting and context determine whether the use of a religious symbol effectively endorses a religious belief.39 There is no violation of the establishment clause if we allow an employee to privately pray the rosary within the confines of his or her workspace.40 The case is different, however, if the religious ritual is collectively and publicly performed. Our Halls of Justice were not built for religious purposes. Allowing the performance of religious rituals in our Halls of Justice runs roughshod over the rights of non-believing employees and other litigants who, for non-religious purposes, are present in the courthouse but are involuntarily exposed to the religious practice. Moreover, the purpose and goal of our secular laws and service to our people should be enough motivation for all public officers to do their best in their jobs. To provide the public space for a supposedly private matter like religion, in the name of morality, is not what the Constitution concedes. If rituals for any religion serve any human resource incentive, so should any form of non-belief, be it in the form of atheism or agnosticism. It does not make sense for a state to favor any religious ritual yet at the same time accommodate citizens, who fervently believe that rituals should never be done. (Justice Leonardo-De Castro; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC; March 7, 2017)

Section 29(2), Article VI of the Constitution is straightforward and needs no statutory construction. The religious use of public property is proscribed in its totality. This proscription applies to any religion. This is especially so if the accommodation for the use of public property is principally, primarily, and exclusively only for a religious purpose. This holistic interpretation of the Constitution is more sensitive to those who disbelieve - the agonistics and the atheists - who are equally protected under the Constitution. It is also more sensitive to the concept that the state remains neutral in matters pertaining to faith: that no institutional religion, due to their dominance or resources, may have any form of advantage over another act of religious belief. (Justice Leonardo-De Castro; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC; March 7, 2017)

To reward the dominant would be to further ensure divisiveness, distrust, and intolerance. It will ultimately result in the accommodation of fundamentalist views embedded in popular religions. The marginalized will perceive no succor in the system. They will see no opening and no space for their own freedoms. Religious rituals in our Halls of Justice, no matter the justification, breed contempt for the impartiality of the Rule of Law. The faiths which anchor our Constitution are diverse. It should not be the monopoly of any sect. The diversity mandated by our Constitution deepens our potentials as sovereigns. To favor a belief system in a divine being therefore, in any shape, form, or manner, is to undermine the very foundations of our legal order. The Constitution does mention god. It may be that the divine is the the Judeo-Christian God. It may be that it is Allah of Islam or Yahweh of the Jews. The god may not be theistic and may simply be the Dharma of the Buddhists. It may also not be a divinity but reasoned secularism as advocated by the most militant Atheists. It may also be a god that is so secure in itself that it does not require any kind of religious rituals, just the humility of not imposing one's belief on others. (Justice Leonardo-De Castro; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC; March 7, 2017)

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Moreover, the purpose and goal of our secular laws and service to our people should be enough motivation for all public officers to do their best in their jobs. To provide the public space for a supposedly private matter like religion, in the name of morality, is not what the Constitution concedes. (Justice Leonen; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC)

If rituals for any religion serve any human resource incentive, so should any form of non-belief, be it in the form of atheism or agnosticism. It does not make sense for a state to favor any religious ritual yet at the same time accommodate citizens, who fervently believe that rituals should never be done. (Justice Leonen; A.M. No. 10-4-19-SC)

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But where the individual externalizes his beliefs in acts or omissions that affect the public, his freedom to do so becomes subject to the authority of the State. As great as this liberty may be, religious freedom, like all the other rights guaranteed in the Constitution, can be enjoyed only with a proper regard for the rights of others. It is error to think that the mere invocation of religious freedom will stalemate the State and render it impotent in protecting the general welfare. The inherent police power can be exercised to prevent religious practices inimical to society. And this is true even if such practices are pursued out of sincere religious conviction and not merely for the purpose of evading the reasonable requirements or prohibitions of the law. Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly: "The constitutional provision on religious freedom terminated disabilities, it did not create new privileges. It gave religious liberty, not civil immunity. Its essence is freedom from conformity to religious dogma, not freedom from conformity to law because of religious dogma. Accordingly, while one has lull freedom to believe in Satan, he may not offer the object of his piety a human sacrifice, as this would be murder. Those who literally interpret the Biblical command to "go forth and multiply" are nevertheless not allowed to contract plural marriages in violation of the laws against bigamy. A person cannot refuse to pay taxes on the ground that it would be against his religious tenets to recognize any authority except that of God alone. An atheist cannot express in his disbelief in act of derision that wound the feelings of the faithful. The police power can validly asserted against the Indian practice of the suttee, born of deep religious conviction, that calls on the widow to immolate herself at the funeral pile of her husband. (INC v. CA; G.R. No. 119673; July 26, 1996)

It is conceded that the non-religious test clause constitutionally bars the state from disqualifying a non-believer, an atheist or an agnostic from voting or being voted for a public office for it is tantamount to a religious test and compelling them to profess a belief in God and a religion. By the same token, the same clause is equally applicable to those at the opposite end, let us call them the full believers who in their love of God and their fellowmen have taken up the ministry of their church or the robe of the priest: to disqualify them from being voted for and elected to a municipal office (under the questioned Administrative Code provision) is to exact a religious test for the exercise of their political rights for it amounts to compelling them to shed off their religious ministry or robe for the exercise of their political right to run for public office. (Ramil vs. Teleron; G.R. No. L-34854; November 20, 1978)

And, a constitutional provision requiring as a condition for appointment as a notary public that a person should declare his belief in the existence of God or should not be an atheist or an agnostic requires a religious test and is, therefore, unconstitutional. That constitutional provision implements the historically discredited policy of "probing religious beliefs by test oaths or limiting public offices to persons who have, or perhaps more properly profess to have, a belief in some particular kind of religious concepts." (Torcaso vs. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 494, 6 L. Ed. 2nd 982, 987).

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