SC on issues about morality

Morality refers to what is good or right conduct at a given circumstance. In Estrada v. Escritor,[1] the Supreme Court described morality as "how we ought to live and why."[2]Morality may be religious, in which case what is good depends on the moral prescriptions of a high moral authority or the beliefs of a particular religion. Religion, as the Supreme Court defined in Aglipay v. Ruiz,[3] is "a profession of faith to an active power that binds and elevates man to his Creator."[4] A conduct is religiously moral if it is consistent with and is carried out in light of the divine set of beliefs and obligations imposed by the active power.

Morality may also be secular, in which case it is independent of any divine moral prescriptions. What is good or right at a given circumstance does not derive its basis from any religious doctrine but from the independent moral sense shared as humans.

The non-establishment clause[5] bars the State from establishing, through laws and rules, moral standards according to a specific religion. Prohibitions against immorality should be based on a purpose that is independent of religious beliefs. When it forms part of our laws, rules, and policies, morality must be secular. Laws and rules of conduct must be based on a secular purpose.[6]

In the same way, the Supreme Court, in resolving cases that touch on issues of morality, is bound to remain neutral and to limit the bases of its judgment on secular moral standards. When laws or rules refer to morals or immorality, courts should be careful not to overlook the distinction between secular and religious morality if it is to keep its part in upholding constitutionally guaranteed rights.[7]

There is the danger of "compelled religion"[8] and, therefore, of negating the very idea of freedom of belief and non-establishment of religion when religious morality is incorporated in government regulations and policies. As explained in Estrada v. Escritor:[9]
Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a "compelled religion" anathema to religious freedom. Likewise, if government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens. Expansive religious freedom therefore requires that government be neutral in matters of religion; governmental reliance upon religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.[10]

The Supreme Court may not sit as judge of what is moral according to a particular religion. They do not have jurisdiction over and is not the proper authority to determine which conduct contradicts religious doctrine. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over matters of morality only insofar as it involves conduct that affects the public or its interest.

[1] 455 Phil. 411 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[2] Id. at 580.

[3] 64 Phil. 201 (1937) [Per J. Laurel, First Division].

[4] Id. at 206.

[5] CONST., art. III, sec. 5.

[6] See Estrada v. Escritor, 455 Phil. 411, 586-594 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[7] See Estrada v. Escritor, 455 Phil. 411 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[8] Estrada v. Escritor, 455 Phil. 411, 589 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[9] 455 Phil. 411 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[10] Id. at 588-589.