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American Bilbe Society v. City of Manila, 181 Phil 386 (1957)
The American Bible Society, is a foreign, non-stock, non-profit, religious, missionary corporation duly registered and doing business in the Philippines through its Philippine agency established in Manila in November 1898. The City of Manila, is a municipal corporation with powers that are to be exercised in conformity with the provisions of Republic Act 409, (Revised Charter of the City of Manila). In the course of its ministry, the Society's Philippine agency has been distributing and selling bibles and/or gospel portions thereof (except during the Japanese occupation) throughout the Philippines and translating the same into several Philippine dialects. On 29 May 1953, the acting City Treasurer of the City of Manila informed the Society that it was conducting the business of general merchandise since November 1945, without providing itself with the necessary Mayor's permit and municipal license, in violation of Ordinance 3000, as amended, and Ordinances 2529, 3028 and 3364, and required the Society to secure, within 3 days, the corresponding permit and license fees, together with compromise covering the period from the 4th quarter of 1945 to the 2nd quarter of 1953, in the total sum of P5,821.45. On 24 October 1953, the Society paid to the City under protest the said permit and license fees, giving at the same time notice to the City Treasurer that suit would be taken in court to question the legality of the ordinances under which the said fees were being collected, which was done on the same date by filing the complaint that gave rise to the present action. After hearing, the lower court dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. The Society appealed to the Court of Appeals, which in turn certified the case to the Supreme Court for the reason that the errors assigned involved only questions of law.
Whether the City Treasurer may impose permit fee upon the religious organization before the latter may distribute and sell bibles with the City of Manila.
Article III, section 1, clause (7) of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religious profession and worship. Religion has been spoken of as 'a profession of faith to an active power that binds and elevates man to its Creator. It has reference to one's views of his relations to His Creator and to the obligations they impose of reverence to His being and character, and obedience to His Will. The constitutional guaranty of the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship carries with it the right to disseminate religious information. Any restraint of such right can only be justified like other restraints of freedom of expression on the grounds that there is a clear and present danger of any substantive evil which the State has the right to prevent. A tax on the income of one who engages in religious activities is different from a tax on property used or employed in connection with those activities. It is one thing to impose a tax on the income or property of a preacher. It is quite another thing to exact a tax from him for the privilege of delivering a sermon. The power to tax the exercise of a privilege is the power to control or suppress its enjoyment. The power to impose a license tax on the exercise of these freedoms is indeed as potent as the power of censorship which this Court has repeatedly struck down. It is not a nominal fee imposed as a regulatory measure to defray the expenses of policing the activities in question. It is in no way apportioned. It is flat license tax levied and collected as a condition to the pursuit of activities whose enjoyment is guaranteed by the constitutional liberties of press and religion and inevitably tends to suppress their exercise. Such is the inherent vice and evil of a flat license tax. Dissemination of religious information cannot be conditioned upon the approval of an official or manager. The right to enjoy freedom of the press and religion occupies a preferred position as against the constitutional right of property owners. Herein, Section 27 (e) of Commonwealth Act 466 (NIRC) -- which exempts corporations or associations organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes, Provided however, That the income of whatever kind and character from any of its properties, real or personal, or from any activity conducted for profit, regardless of the disposition made of such income, shall be liable to the tax imposed under the Code -- does not apply to the Society as its act of distributing and selling bibles, etc. is purely religious in nature. Ordinance 2529, as amended, cannot as well be applied to the Society, for in doing so it would impair its free exercise and enjoyment of its religious profession and worship as well as its rights of dissemination of religious beliefs. The fact that the price of the bibles and other religious pamphlets are little higher than the actual cost of the same does not necessarily mean that it is already engaged in the business or occupation of selling said “merchandise” for profit. Lastly, Constitutional Law II, 2005 ( 20 ) Narratives (Berne Guerrero) Ordinance 3000 of the City of Manila, which requires the obtention of the Mayor's permit before any person can engage in any of the businesses, trades or occupations enumerated therein, is not applicable to the Society, as its business, trade or occupation is not particularly mentioned in Section 3 of the Ordinance, and the record does not show that a permit is required therefor under existing laws and ordinances for the proper supervision and enforcement of their provisions governing the sanitation, security and welfare of the public and the health of the employees engaged in the business of the Society.