Ebralinag v. Division Superintended G.R. No. 95770, March 1, 1993

Facts: All the petitioners in these two cases were expelled from their classes by the public school authorities in Cebu for refusing to salute the flag, sing the national anthem and recite the patriotic pledge as required by Republic Act No. 1265 of July 11, 1955, and by Department Order No. 8 dated July 21, 1955 of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) making the flag ceremony compulsory in all educational institutions. Jehovah’s Witnesses admittedly teach their children not to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, and recite the patriotic pledge for they believe that those are “acts of worship” or “religious devotion” which they “cannot conscientiously give to anyone or anything except God”. They feel bound by the Bible’s command to “guard ourselves from idols — 1 John 5:21”. They consider the flag as an image or idol representing the State. They think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on the State’s power and invades the sphere of the intellect and spirit which the Constitution protect against official control.

Issue: Whether the expulsion of the Students in refusing to participate in the Flag Ceremony in compliance with the teaching of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” inviolates their Right to Freedom of Religion.

Held: Yes, the court held that a similar exemption may be accorded to the Jehovah’s Witnesses with regard to the observance of the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs, however “bizarre” those beliefs may seem to others. Nevertheless, their right not to participate in the flag ceremony does not give them a right to disrupt such patriotic exercises. While the highest regard must be afforded their right to the free exercise of their religion, “this should not be taken to mean that school authorities are powerless to discipline them” if they should commit breaches of the peace by actions that offend the sensibilities, both religious and patriotic, of other persons. If they quietly stand at attention during the flag ceremony while their classmates and teachers salute the flag, sing the national anthem and recite the patriotic pledge, we do not see how such conduct may possibly disturb the peace, or pose “a grave and present danger of a serious evil to public safety, public morals, public health or any other legitimate public interest that the State has a right and duty to prevent.

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