721 SCRA 146 Imbong v. Ochoa
721 SCRA 146 Imbong v. Ochoa Case Digest Constitutional Law II Freedom of Religion...
721 SCRA 146 Imbong v. Ochoa Petitioners: JAMES M. IMBONG and LOVELY-ANN C. IMBONG, for themselves and in behalf of their minor children, et al. Respondents: HON. PAQUITO N. OCHOA, JR., Executive Secretary, et al. Ponente: J. Mendoza FACTS: Despite calls to withhold support thereto, however, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10354, otherwise known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Law), was enacted by Congress on December 21, 2012. Shortly after the President placed his imprimatur on the said law, challengers from various sectors of society came knocking on the doors of the Court, beckoning it to wield the sword that strikes down constitutional disobedience. Aware of the profound and lasting impact that its decision may produce, the Court now faces the iuris controversy, as presented in fourteen (14) petitions and two (2) petitions- in-intervention. A perusal of the foregoing petitions shows that the petitioners are assailing the constitutionality of RH Law on the ground that the RH Law violates the right to religious freedom. The petitioners contend that the RH Law violates the constitutional guarantee respecting religion as it authorizes the use of public funds for the procurement of contraceptives. For the petitioners, the use of public funds for purposes that are believed to be contrary to their beliefs is included in the constitutional mandate ensuring religious freedom. It is also argued that the RH Law providing for the formulation of mandatory sex education in schools should not be allowed as it is an affront to their religious beliefs. While the petitioners recognize that the guarantee of religious freedom is not absolute, they argue that the RH Law fails to satisfy the "clear and present danger test" and the "compelling state interest test" to justify the regulation of the right to free exercise of religion and the right to free speech. Issue: Whether or not the RH Law violates Freedom of Religion and the Right to Free Speech Held:
In short, the constitutional assurance of religious freedom provides two guarantees: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The establishment clause "principally prohibits the State from sponsoring any religion or favoring any religion as against other religions. It mandates a strict neutrality in affairs among religious groups." Essentially, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion and the use of public resources for the support or prohibition of a religion. On the other hand, the basis of the free exercise clause is the respect for the inviolability of the human conscience. Under this part of religious freedom guarantee, the State is prohibited from unduly interfering with the outside manifestations of one's belief and faith. In the case at bench, it is not within the province of the Court to determine whether the use of contraceptives or one's participation in the support of modem reproductive health measures is moral from a religious standpoint or whether the same is right or wrong according to one's dogma or belief. For the Court has declared that matters dealing with "faith, practice, doctrine, form of worship, ecclesiastical law, custom and rule of a church ... are unquestionably ecclesiastical matters which are outside the province of the civil courts." While the Constitution prohibits abortion, laws were enacted allowing the use of contraceptives. To some medical practitioners, however, the whole idea of using contraceptives is an anathema. Consistent with the principle of benevolent neutrality, their beliefs should be respected. The Court is of the view that the obligation to refer imposed by the RH Law violates the religious belief and conviction of a conscientious objector. Once the medical practitioner, against his will, refers a patient seeking information on modem reproductive health products, services, procedures and methods, his conscience is immediately burdened as he has been compelled to perform an act against his beliefs. The same holds true with respect to non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group and health care service providers. Considering that Section 24 of the RH Law penalizes such institutions should they fail or refuse to comply with their duty to refer under Section 7 and Section 23(a)(3), the Court deems that it must be struck down for being violative of the freedom of religion. The same applies to Section 23(a)(l) and (a) (2) in relation to Section 24, considering that in the dissemination of information regarding
programs and services and in the performance of reproductive health procedures, the religious freedom of health care service providers should be respected.