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ANNOTATION

THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE

By
DAVID ROBERT C. AQUINO, CSEE 1

_________________

There is common practice among government offices to mandate the


attendance of its personnel in its Monday morning flag raising ceremony. In
fact, such a practice is already considered a matter of policy with the end in
view of instilling patriotism and national identity among civil servants. This
practice is mirrored in public and even private schools with the same purpose
in mind. Such a practice is often effected through an office or school advisory.

It is respectfully submitted that any advisory enjoining all employees to


attend, although of noble intention, needs to be revisited using another
perspective.

Let us ask ourselves—Do we, as Filipinos, and more particularly as public


servants, need an office directive so as to ensure our attendance and
participation in the regular Monday flag raising ceremony?

Allow me then to submit for everyone’s consideration and for purposes of


academic discussion, my humble opinion on the matter. Moreover, it would be
very much appreciated if discussion and enlightenment on the
appropriateness of such a policy would be facilitated either through
concurring or dissenting views, since this humble opinion takes the position
and role of a devil’s advocate.

Allow me to being—the compulsory attendance in flag raising ceremonies in


government offices is a long established practice in our society. Yet in my
humble and limited opinion, I believe that this practice, infringes in a way, an
individual’s right to act in accordance with one’s belief.

Allow me to humbly elucidate:

Among all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution all, save one, may be
curtailed by the state’s inherent powers—police power, eminent domain and
the power to tax.

This one exception is THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE. This is the only right that
is absolute.

From this premise—the state cannot curtail nor regulate this right. It can
only regulate the actions that emanate from such belief. The state can only
act if such beliefs spawned acts that are detrimental or injurious to others or
to the state.

State action, however, cannot be arbitrary—there are established tests in


order to validate an exercise of the state of either its police power or eminent
domain. These tests that qualify a state act as valid or not are the balancing
of rights testsand the clear and present danger test. If such acts of state do not
pass these established tests then the state action in itself is a grave abuse of
power.

It should be noted that variations of this issue are not new. In fact, orders or
directives compelling attendance in flag raising ceremonies have been the
subject of judicial contention in the past since the Gerona case was
overturned by the Ebralinag case. 2

Although said case focused on the primacy of religious belief over the state’s
power to compel attendance in flag ceremonies, I believe the doctrine laid
down in that case may be expanded further.

Religious conviction in the ultimate analysis is nothing more than personal


belief or conviction—the right to believe in a divine entity or the right not to
believe.

The bottom line is, the right to believe takes precedence over all else. Hence,
we again go back to the premise that belief is an absolute right—it is only
when actions done pursuant to such belief conflicts with law, morals and
public order can such acts be regulated through the state’s police power
subject to certain tests or parameters mentioned earlier.

As to the issue of patriotism—to inculcation of which is one of the purposes


behind the mandatory attendance in flag raising ceremonies, I do not believe
that non-attendance in the same would make any person less of a patriot.
Patriotism is nurtured in the heart through spontaneous and voluntary
action.

Simply put, patriotism can never be forced. As remarked in a case from a


different jurisdiction:
“... to believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary
and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate
of the appeal of our institutions to free minds...When they [diversity] are so harmless
to others or to the state as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But
freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a
mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things
that touch the heart of the existing order.”
3

And in another decision:


“Furthermore, let it be noted that coerced unity and loyalty even to the country, ...—
assuming that such unity and loyalty can be attained through coercion—is not a goal
that is constitutionally obtainable at the expense of religious liberty.”
4

We are a country that espouses democratic ideals and institutions. Such a


situation not only contemplates freedom of choice but also freedom of diverse
choices.
It is certain that not every conscience can be accommodated by all the laws of
the land; but when general laws conflict with scruples of conscience,
exemptions ought to be granted unless some “compelling state interests”
intervene.5

Freedom of speech includes the right to be silent.

Aptly has it been said that the Bill of Rights that guarantees to the individual
the liberty to utter what is in his mind also guarantees to him the liberty not
to utter what is not in his mind. The salute is a symbolic manner of
communication that conveys its message as clearly as the written or spoken
word ... This coercion of conscience has no place in the free society.
6

In sum, compulsory attendance violates the fundamental law of the land not
because the aim of the exercise is doubtful but because the means employed
for accomplishing it is not permitted.

Legitimate ends cannot be pursued by methods which violate fundamental


freedoms when the ends may be achieved by rational ones.

Finally, allow me to humbly state that the Machiavellian tenet—the end


justifies the means—is anathema to the democratic character of our nation.

Let us not lose sight of what our democratic institutions stand for—that we
may not allow the ends to justify the means.

——o0o——