Alejandro Estrada wrote to Judge Caoibes, Jr., 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. 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.
What is the doctrine of benevolent neutrality? Is respondent entitled thereto? Is the doctrine of benevolent neutrality consistent with the free exercise clause?
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 respondent’s stance that her 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 Court’s action would be an unconstitutional encroachment of her right to religious freedom. We cannot therefore simply take a passing look at respondent’s 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 state’s compelling interest which can override respondent’s religious belief and practice.