Saturday, July 10, 2010

Estrada vs. Escritor , 492 SCRA 1 ; 22 JUN 2006

FACTS: Escritor is a court interpreter since 1999 in the RTC of Las Pinas City. She has been living with Quilapio, a man who is not her husband, for more than twenty five years and had a son with him as well. Respondent’s husband died a year before she entered into the judiciary while Quilapio is still legally married to another woman.

Complainant Estrada requested the Judge of said RTC to investigate respondent. According to complainant, respondent should not be allowed to remain employed therein for it will appear as if the court allows such act.

Respondent claims that their conjugal arrangement is permitted by her religion—the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower and the Bible Trace Society. They allegedly have a ‘Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness’ under the approval of their congregation. Such a declaration is effective when legal impediments render it impossible for a couple to legalize their union.

ISSUE: Whether or Not the State could penalize respondent for such conjugal arrangement.

RULING: No. The State could not penalize respondent for she is exercising her right to freedom of religion. The free exercise of religion is specifically articulated as one of the fundamental rights in our Constitution. As Jefferson put it, it is the most inalienable and sacred of human rights. The State’s interest in enforcing its prohibition cannot be merely abstract or symbolic in order to be sufficiently compelling to outweigh a free exercise claim. In the case at bar, the State has not evinced any concrete interest in enforcing the concubinage or bigamy charges against respondent or her partner. Thus the State’s interest only amounts to the symbolic preservation of an unenforced prohibition.

Furthermore, a distinction between public and secular morality and religious morality should be kept in mind. The jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality.

The Court further states that our Constitution adheres the benevolent neutrality approach that gives room for accommodation of religious exercises as required by the Free Exercise Clause. This benevolent neutrality could allow for accommodation of morality based on religion, provided it does not offend compelling state interests. Assuming arguendo that the OSG has proved a compelling state interest, it has to further demonstrate that the state has 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. Thus the conjugal arrangement cannot be penalized for it constitutes an exemption to the law based on her right to freedom of religion.

No comments:

Post a Comment