G.R. No. 95770. December 29, 1995 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title: Ebralinag vs The Division Superintendent of Schools of Cebu

### Facts:

The case centered around minor children, members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, with the representation of their parents, were expelled from public schools in Cebu for refusing to participate in the flag ceremony—saluting the flag, singing the national anthem, and reciting the patriotic pledge, mandated by Republic Act No. 1265 and Department Order No. 8 issued by the Department of Education, claiming it against their religious beliefs. This refusal led to their expulsion based on the rationale that such acts were considered disrespectful to the Philippine flag and, by implication, to the country. They anchored their refusal on their sincere belief in the biblical injunction against idolatry. The case, initially resolved in favor of the children, was subjected to a motion for reconsideration by the State, arguing that the ruling created a religious exemption that violated the “Establishment Clause” of the Constitution.

### Issues:

1. Whether the expulsion of Jehovah’s Witnesses from public schools for not participating in the flag ceremony violates the “Free Exercise Clause” and the “Establishment Clause” of the Constitution.
2. Whether the State’s interest in promoting patriotism and nationalism justifies overriding the religious freedom of students.
3. Whether the refusal to salute the flag constitutes a substantial disruption or threat that warrants state intervention in the form of expulsion.

### Court’s Decision:

The Supreme Court maintained its prior decision, emphasizing the paramount importance of religious freedom and ruling that the expulsion of Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, and recite the patriotic pledge was unconstitutional. The Court highlighted that the flag ceremony requirement, neutral in its intent to promote patriotism, inadvertently infringed upon the religious practices of the students, thus constituting an undue burden on their free exercise of religion. The ruling reinforced the principle that coerced unity and loyalty, achieved under threat of expulsion, do not truly foster patriotism but rather breed resentment and dissent.

### Doctrine:

This case reiterated the doctrine of the primacy of religious freedom, as embodied in the “Free Exercise Clause” of the Philippine Constitution. It underscored that the state must not coerce individuals into acts that contravene their religious beliefs, even under the guise of fostering national unity and patriotism, unless such acts pose a clear and present danger of a substantive evil that the state is duty-bound to prevent.

### Class Notes:

– **Free Exercise Clause**: Protects individuals’ right to practice their religion freely, without undue interference from the government, unless the practice poses a clear and present danger to public safety, peace, or order.
– **Establishment Clause**: Prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, favoring one religion over another, or unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or vice versa.
– **Clear and Present Danger Test**: A standard to determine when the state can lawfully limit free speech or religious practices based on the presence of a “substantive evil” that presents an immediate and serious threat.
– **Patriotic Observances Act (Republic Act No. 1265)**: Requires all schools to conduct regular flag ceremonies, including the salute to the Philippine flag, singing of the national anthem, and recitation of the patriotic pledge.

### Historical Background:

This case emerged in the context of post-EDSA Revolution Philippines where democratic freedoms, including religious liberty, were being reasserted after the martial law era. It reflects the tensions between state-imposed mandates for national unity and individual rights, particularly religious freedom. It illustrates the Supreme Court’s role in balancing these interests and protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority, reinforcing the protection of constitutional rights in the newly restored democracy.


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