Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Freedom of religion in public schools

With regards the teaching of religion to public school students, the 1987 Constitution in Article XIV, Section 3, paragraph (3), states,

"At the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours by instructors designated or approved by the religious authorities of the religion to which the children or wards belong, without additional cost to the Government."

The freedom of religion clause of the 1987 Constitution is found in Article III, Section 5. It states,

“No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."

The freedom of religion clause of our Constitution is of American origin. Thus decisions of the US Supreme Court are applicable to Philippine situations. In terms of discrimination against any religion, the US Supreme Court has ruled the following:

(1) Lamb’s Chapel et al. v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993) - Court said that school districts cannot deny churches access to school premises after-hours, if the district allowed the use of its building to other groups.

(2) Good News Club v. Milford Central School, (2001) - Court ruled that Milford Central School cannot keep Good News Club from using its facilities because the school had created a limited public forum and prohibiting the religious club was viewpoint discrimination.

(3) Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981) - Court ruled that a state university cannot refuse to grant a student religious group “equal access” to facilities that are open to other student groups.

(4) Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67 (1953) - Court overturned conviction of a Jehovah's Witness who gave a religious address in a public park without permission of Pawtuckett, Rhode Island city officials. Pawtuckett officials had allowed other religous groups to speak in the park

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