Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 3

Estrada v. Escritor

Summary Cases:

Subject:

Free Exercise Clause; Evolution of Different Tests employed by the courts under the Free Exercise Clause; Non-Establishment Clause; Strict Neutrality vs. Benevolent Neutrality; Accommodation theory; Philippine jurisdiction adopts Benevolent Neutrality approach; Tests applied on exercise of Religious freedom; Religious clauses and Morality; Application of Benevolent Neutrality and the Compelling State Interest Test

Facts:

Alejandro Estrada wrote a letter to the judge of RTC Branch 253, Las Pinas City, complaining of immoral acts committed by Soledad Escritor, a court interpreter in said court, who is allegedly living with a man not her husband. During the investigation, Escritor admitted that she has been living with Luciano Quilapio, Jr. without the benefit of marriage for twenty years and that they have a son. But as a member of the religious sect known as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society, their conjugal arrangement is in conformity with their religious beliefs. In fact, after ten years of living together, she executed on July 28, 1991 a "Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness." Quilapio executed a similar pledge. At the time Escritor executed her pledge, her husband was still alive but living with another woman. Insofar as the congregation is concerned, there is nothing immoral about the conjugal arrangement between Escritor and Quilapio and they remain members in good standing in the congregation. Moreover, at the time Escritor joined the judiciary, her husband has already died and there was no longer any legal impediment to marry on her part, although Quilapio was still married to another but separated. Escritor, who is charged with committing "gross and immoral conduct" under the Revised Administrative Code, invokes the moral standards of her religion, the Jehovah's Witnesses, in asserting that her conjugal arrangement with a man not her legal husband does not constitute disgraceful and immoral conduct for which she should be held administratively liable. Held:

Free exercise clause 1. The Free Exercise Clause embraces two concepts - freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society. Evolution of Different Tests employed by the courts under the Free Exercise Clause

(a) The belief-action test Under this test, regulation of religiously dictated conduct would be upheld no

matter how central the conduct was to the exercise of religion and no matter how insignificant was the government's non-religious regulatory interest so long as the government is proscribing action and not belief. (b) The Court abandoned the simplistic belief-action distinction and instead recognized the

deliberate-inadvertent distinction, i.e., the distinction between deliberate state interference of religious exercise for religious reasons which was plainly unconstitutional and government's inadvertent interference with religion in pursuing some secular objective.

(c) The two-part balancing test of validity of the infringing regulation where the first step was for plaintiff

to show that the regulation placed a real burden on his religious exercise. Next, the burden would be upheld only if the state showed that it was pursuing an overriding secular goal by the means which imposed the least burden on religious practices.

(d) Then came the stricter compelling state interest test, this latter test stressed that the state interest

was not merely any colorable state interest, but must be paramount and compelling to override the free | Page 1 of 3

was not merely any colorable state interest, but must be paramount and compelling to over ride
was not merely any colorable state interest, but must be paramount and compelling to over ride

exercise claim. A compelling state interest is the highest level of constitutional scrutiny short of a holding of a per se violation. Thus, when general laws conflict with scruples of conscience, exemptions ought to be granted unless some 'compelling state interest' intervenes. Non-Establishment Clause

2. U.S. Supreme Court adopted Jefferson's metaphor of "a wall of separation between church and state"

as encapsulating the meaning of the Establishment Clause.

3. The Lemon v. Kurtzman test requires a challenged policy to meet the following criteria to pass

scrutiny under the Establishment Clause.

(i) the statute must have a secular legislative purpose

(ii)

its primary or principal effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion

(iii)

the statute must not foster 'an excessive entanglement with religion.'

Strict Neutrality vs. Benevolent Neutrality

4. The two main standards used by the Court in deciding religion clause cases: separation (strict

neutrality) and accommodation (benevolent neutrality).

(a) Under the strict neutrality approach, the government should base public policy solely on secular

considerations, without regard to the religious consequences of its actions. It adopts a policy of religious

blindness . This approach has been used in education cases where the court refused to allow any form of prayer, spoken or silent, in public schools. However, this separationist approach has become problematic in contemporary times when both the government and religion are growing and expanding

their spheres of involvement and activity, resulting in the intersection of government and religion at many points.

(b) The benevolent neutrality approach allows for interaction between the church and state as called
(b) The benevolent neutrality approach allows for interaction between the church and state as called
for by necessity or practicality. Benevolent neutrality allows accommodation of religion under certain
circumstances. Accommodations are government policies that take religion specifically into account not
to promote the government's favored form of religion, but to allow individuals and groups to exercise their
religion without hindrance. Their purpose or effect therefore is to remove a burden on, or facilitate the
exercise of, a person's or institution's religion. As Justice Brennan explained, the "government [may] take
religion into account
.to exempt, when possible, from generally applicable governmental regulation
individuals whose religious beliefs and practices would otherwise thereby be infringed, or to create

without state involvement an atmosphere in which voluntary religious exercise may flourish." Accommodation theory

5. A three-step process (also referred to as the "two-step balancing process" when the second and third

steps are combined) is followed in weighing the state's interest and religious freedom when these collide.

Three questions are answered in this process:

(a) 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 truth. The sincerity of the claimant's belief is ascertained to avoid the mere claim of religious beliefs to escape a mandatory regulation. (b) 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.

(c) Has 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? Philippine jurisdiction adopts Benevolent Neutrality approach

6. The Philippine constitution's religion clauses prescribe not a strict but a benevolent neutrality.

Benevolent neutrality recognizes that government must pursue its secular goals and interests but at the same time strives to uphold religious liberty to the greatest extent possible within flexible constitutional limits. Thus, although the morality contemplated by laws is secular, benevolent neutrality could allow for accommodation of morality based on religion, provided it does not offend compelling state interests.

7. In other words, in the absence of legislation granting exemption from a law of general applicability, the

Court can carve out an exception when the religion clauses justify it.

| Page 2 of 3

a law of general applicability, the Court can carve out an exception when the religion clauses

Tests applied on exercise of religious freedom

8. The case at bar does not involve speech where the "clear and present danger" and "grave and

immediate danger" tests were appropriate.

9. The present case involves purely conduct arising from religious belief. The "compelling state interest"

test is proper where conduct is involved. Under this test, not any interest of the state would suffice to prevail over the right to religious freedom as this is a fundamental right that enjoys a preferred position in the hierarchy of rights.

10. In determining which shall prevail between the state's interest and religious liberty, reasonableness

shall be the guide.

Religious clauses and Morality

11. The morality referred to in the law is public and secular morality, not religious morality. The

distinction is important because the jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality. Whatever pronouncement the Court makes in the case at bar should be understood only in this realm. Application of Benevolent Neutrality and the Compelling State Interest Test

12. In ruling on Escritor s claim of religious freedom, the court applied the compelling state interest test

from a benevolent neutrality stance - i.e. the claim of religious freedom would warrant carving out an

exception from the Civil Service Law, unless the government succeeds in demonstrating a more compelling state interest.

13. Applying the balancing process earlier discussed, the court found that Escritor's right to religious

freedom has been burdened as she is made to choose between keeping her employment and following her religious precept. She appears to be sincere in her religious belief and practice and is not merely using the "Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness" to avoid punishment for immorality.

14. However, the case must be remanded to the Office of the Court Administrator to
14. However, the case must be remanded to the Office of the Court Administrator to properly settle the
issue of the existence of a compelling state interest. The government should be given the opportunity to
demonstrate the compelling state interest it seeks to uphold which can override respondent's religious
belief and practice. The burden of evidence should be discharged by the proper agency of the
government which is the Office of the Solicitor General.
should be discharged by the proper agency of the government which is the Office of the

| Page 3 of 3