Iglesia Ni Cristo v. CA

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  Iglesia ni Cristo v. Court of Appeals G.R. NO. 119673 26 JUL 1996 Facts: Petitioner has a television program entitled Ang Iglesia ni Cristo aired on Channel 2 every Saturday and on Channel 13 every Sunday. The program presents and propagates petitioner's religious beliefs, doctrines and practices often times in comparative studies with other religions. Petitioner submitted to the respondent Board of Review for Moving Pictures and Television the VTR tapes of its TV program Series Nos. 116, 119, 121 and 128. The Board classified the series as X or not for public viewing on the ground that they offend and constitute an attack against other religions which is expressly prohibited by law. On November 28, 1992, it appealed to the Office of the President the classification of its TV Series No. 128 which allowed it through a letter of former Executive Secretary Edelmiro A. Amante, Sr., addressed for Henrietta S. Mendez reversing the decision of the respondent Board. According to the letter the episode in is protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech and expression and no indication that the episode poses any clear and present danger. Petitioner also filed Civil Case. Petitioner alleged that the respondent Board acted without  jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in requiring petitioner to submit the VTR tapes of its TV program and in x-rating them. It cited its TV Program Series Nos. 115, 119, 121 and 128. In their Answer, respondent Board invoked its power under PD No. 19861 in relation to Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code. The Iglesia ni Cristo insists on the literal translation of the bible and says that our (Catholic) veneration of the Virgin Mary is not to be condoned because nowhere it is found in the bible. The board contended that it outrages Catholic and Protestant's beliefs. RTC ruled in favor of petitioners. CA however reversed it hence this petition. Issue: Whether or Not the Ang iglesia ni Cristo program is not constitutionally protected as a form of religious exercise and expression. Held: Yes. Any act that restrains speech is accompanied with presumption of invalidity. It is the burden of the respondent Board to overthrow this presumption. If it fails to discharge this burden, its act of censorship will be struck down. This is true in this case. So-called attacks are mere criticisms of some of the deeply held dogmas and tenets of other religions. RTC’s ruling clearly suppresses petitioner's freedom of speech and interferes with its right to free exercise of religion. “attack” is different from “offend” any race or religion. The respondent Board may disagree with the criticisms of other religions by petitioner but that gives it no excuse to interdict such criticisms, however, unclean they may be. Under our constitutional scheme, it is not the task of the State to favor any religion by protecting it against an attack by another religion. Religious dogmas and beliefs are often at war and to preserve peace among their followers, especially the fanatics, the establishment clause of freedom of religion prohibits the State from leaning towards any religion. Respondent board cannot censor the speech of petitioner Iglesia ni Cristo simply because it attacks other religions, even if said religion happens to be the most numerous church in our country. The basis of freedom of religion is freedom of thought and it is best served by encouraging the marketplace of dueling ideas. It is only where it is unavoidably necessary to prevent an immediate and grave danger to the security and welfare of the community that infringement of religious freedom may be justified, and only to the smallest extent necessary to avoid the danger. There is no showing whatsoever of the  type of harm the tapes will bring about especially the gravity and imminence of the threatened harm. Prior restraint on speech, including religious speech, cannot be justified by hypothetical fears but only by the showing of a substantive and imminent evil. It is inappropriate to apply the clear and present danger test to the case at bar because the issue involves the content of speech and not the time, place or manner of speech. Allegedly, unless the speech is first allowed, its impact cannot be measured, and the causal connection between the speech and the evil apprehended cannot be established. The determination of the question as to whether or not such vilification, exaggeration or fabrication falls within or lies outside the boundaries of protected speech or expression is a judicial function which cannot be arrogated by an administrative body such as a Board of Censors. A system of prior restraint may only be validly administered by judges and not left to administrative agencies.
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