You are on page 1of 1

Estrada Vs.

Escritor
AM No P-02-1651, August 4, 2003

Facts: In a sworn letter-complaint dated July 27, 2000, complainant Alejandro Estrada wrote to Judge Jose F. Caoibes, Jr.,
presiding judge of Branch 253, Regional Trial Court of Las Pias City, requesting for an investigation of rumors that respondent
Soledad Escritor, court interpreter in said court, is living with a man not her husband. They allegedly have a child of eighteen to
twenty years old. Estrada is not personally related either to Escritor or her partner and is a resident not of Las Pias City but of
Bacoor, Cavite. Nevertheless, he filed the charge against Escritor as he believes that she is committing an immoral act that
tarnishes the image of the court, thus she should not be allowed to remain employed therein as it might appear that the court
condones her act.

Respondent Escritor testified that when she entered the judiciary in 1999, she was already a widow, her husband having died in
1998. She admitted that she has been living with Luciano Quilapio, Jr. without the benefit of marriage for twenty years and that
they have a son. But as a member of the religious sect known as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watch Tower and Bible Tract
Society, their conjugal arrangement is in conformity with their religious beliefs.

Issue: Whether or not respondent's right to religious freedom should carve out an exception from the prevailing jurisprudence on
illicit relations for which government employees are held administratively liable.

Held: Freedom of choice guarantees the liberty of the religious conscience and prohibits any degree of compulsion or burden,
whether direct or indirect, in the practice of one's religion. The Free Exercise Clause principally guarantees voluntarism, although
the Establishment Clause also assures voluntarism by placing the burden of the advancement of religious groups on their intrinsic
merits and not on the support of the state.
xxx
Benevolent neutrality recognizes that government must pursue its secular goals and interests but at the same time strives 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. It still remains to be seen if respondent is entitled to such doctrine as the state has not been afforded the chance
has demonstrate the compelling state interest of prohibiting the act of respondent, thus the case is remanded to the RTC.

Benevolent neutrality is inconsistent with the Free Exercise Clause as far as it prohibits such exercise given a compelling state
interest. It is the respondents stance that the respondents conjugal arrangement is not immoral and punishable as it comes within
the scope of free exercise protection. Should the Court prohibit and punish her conduct where it is protected by the Free Exercise
Clause, the Courts action would be an unconstitutional encroachment of her right to religious freedom. The Court cannot therefore
simply take a passing look at respondents claim of religious freedom, but must instead apply the compelling state interest test.
The government must be heard on the issue as it has not been given an opportunity to discharge its burden of demonstrating the
states compelling interest which can override respondents religious belief and practice.