The case has its roots in the COMELEC’s refusal to accredit Ang Ladlad as a party-list organization under Republic Act (RA) No. 7941 (Party-List System Act).
Ang Ladlad is an organization composed of men and women who identify themselves as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or trans-gendered individuals (LGBTs). Incorporated in 2003, Ang Ladlad first applied for registration with the COMELEC in 2006. The application for accreditation was denied on the ground that the organization had no substantial membership base. In 2009, Ang Ladlad again filed a Petition for registration with the COMELEC.
Before the COMELEC, petitioner argued that the LGBT community is a marginalized and under-represented sector that is particularly disadvantaged because of their sexual orientation and gender identity; that LGBTs are victims of exclusion, discrimination, and violence; that because of negative societal attitudes, LGBTs are constrained to hide their sexual orientation; and that Ang Ladlad complied with the 8-point guidelines enunciated by this Court in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections. Ang Ladlad laid out its national membership base consisting of individual members and organizational supporters, and outlined its platform of governance. After admitting the petitioner’s evidence, the COMELEC dismissed the Petition on moral grounds, that the definition of the LGBT sector makes it crystal clear that petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs. COMELEC also pointed out that pertinent provisions of the Civil Code (Articles 695, 1306, 1409) and the Revised Penal Code (Article 201) are deemed part of the requirement to be complied with for accreditation.
Ang Ladlad filed this Petition, praying that the Court annul the Assailed Resolutions and direct the COMELEC to grant Ang Ladlad’s application for accreditation. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) filed a Motion to Intervene or to Appear as Amicus Curiae. The CHR opined that the denial of Ang Ladlad’s petition on moral grounds violated the standards and principles of the Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Whether or not the denial of accreditation of Ang Ladlad, insofar as COMELEC justified the exclusion by using religious dogma, violated the constitutional guarantees against the establishment of religion
Yes, COMELEC violated the constitutional guarantees against the establishment of religion. Religion should not be a basis for refusal to accept Ang Ladlad’s petition for registration.
Our Constitution provides in Article III, Section 5 that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” At bottom, what our non-establishment clause calls for is “government neutrality in religious matters.” Clearly, “governmental reliance on religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.” The Court thus find that it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad. Rather than relying on religious belief, the legitimacy of the Assailed Resolutions should depend, instead, on whether the COMELEC is able to advance some justification for its rulings beyond mere conformity to religious doctrine. Otherwise stated, government must act for secular purposes and in ways that have primarily secular effects. As the Court held in Estrada v. Escritor:
“x x x The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular, not religious as the dissent of Mr. Justice Carpio holds. “Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms.” Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom. Likewise, if government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens.
In other words, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose. That is, the government proscribes this conduct because it is “detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society” and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other. Although admittedly, moral judgments based on religion might have a compelling influence on those engaged in public deliberations over what actions would be considered a moral disapprobation punishable by law. After all, they might also be adherents of a religion and thus have religious opinions and moral codes with a compelling influence on them; the human mind endeavors to regulate the temporal and spiritual institutions of society in a uniform manner, harmonizing earth with heaven. Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses. x x x Recognizing the religious nature of the Filipinos and the elevating influence of religion in society, however, the Philippine constitution’s religion clauses prescribe not a strict but a benevolent neutrality. Benevolent neutrality recognizes that government must pursue its secular goals and interests but at the same time strive to uphold religious liberty to the greatest extent possible within flexible constitutional limits. Thus, although the morality contemplated by laws is secular, benevolent neutrality could allow for accommodation of morality based on religion, provided it does not offend compelling state interests.”