THE Supreme Court has given its nod to holding of Masses and religious practices in all courts in the Philippines, despite the lone opposition of SC Justice Marvic Leonen.
The permission came after the SC en banc junked a petition of a litigant asking the tribunal to prohibit the holding of religious rituals in the Quezon City Hall of Justice and in all halls of justice in the country.
In a full-court ruling, the SC directed the executive judges of QC to regulate and closely monitor the holding of Masses and religious practices within the Quezon City Hall of Justice by ensuring, among others that “it does not disturb or interrupt court proceedings; and (b) it does not adversely affect and interrupt the delivery of public service and it does not unduly inconvenience the public.”
The ruling was penned by SC Justice Jose Catral Mendoza.
“In no case shall a particular part of a public building be a permanent place for worship for the benefit of any and all religious groups. There shall also be no permanent display of religious icons in all halls of justice in the country,” the SC said.
The case originated from a series of letters written by one Tony Q. Valenciano and addressed to then-Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
Valenciano reported that the basement of the Hall of Justice of QC had been converted into a Roman Catholic chapel, complete with offertory table, images of Catholic religious icons, a canopy, an electric organ and a projector.
He believed that such practice violated the constitutional provision on the separation of Church and State and the constitutional prohibition against the appropriation of public money or property for the benefit of a sect, church, denomination or any other system of religion.
Valenciano said the holding of Masses at the basement of the QC Hall of Justice showed that it tended to favor Catholic litigants, among others, that rehearsals of the choir caused great disturbance to other employees and that the public could no longer use the basement as resting place; and that the employees and litigants of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Branches 82 and 83 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Legal Library, Philippine Mediation Center and Records Section of the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) could not attend to their personal necessities such as going to the lavatories because the “chapel” gets in the way.
But in its decision, majority of the justices held that “to disallow the holding of religious rituals within [the]halls of justice would set a dangerous precedent and commence a domino effect.”
“Strict separation, rather than benevolent neutrality/accommodation, would be the norm. Thus, the establishment of Shari’a courts, the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos and the exception of Muslims from the provisions of the RPC [Revised Penal Code] relative to the crime of bigamy would all be rendered nugatory because of strict separation,” the decision held.
“The exception of members of Iglesia ni Cristo from joining a union or the non-compulsion recognized in favor of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from doing certain gestures during the flag ceremony will all go down the drain simply because we insist on strict separation. That the holding of Masses at the basement of the QC Hall of Justice may offend non-Catholics is no reason to proscribe it. Our Constitution ensures and mandates an unconditional tolerance, without regard to whether those who seek to profess their faith belong to the majority or to the minority.”
In case of religious rituals, the High Court said “religious icons and images may be displayed but their presentation is limited only during the celebration of such activities so as not to offend the sensibilities of members of other religious denominations or the non-religious public.”
After any religious affair, the SC ordered that “the icons and images shall be hidden or concealed from public view. The disposition in this administrative matter shall apply to all halls of justice in the country.”
“Other churches, religious denominations or sects are entitled to the same rights, privileges and practices in every hall of justice. In other buildings not owned or controlled by the judiciary, the executive judges should coordinate and seek approval of the building owners/administrators accommodating their courts.”