The 1987 Constitution (Article XIV, Sec. 3, paragraph 3) provides the governing principle and law on the teaching of religion in public schools. The provision states:
“At the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours by instructors designated or approved by the religious authorities of the religion to which the children or wards belong, without additional cost to the Government.”In keeping with this Constitutional mandate, the Department of Education has issued several orders on the mechanics of the teaching of religion in public elementary and high schools. These are DepEd Order No. 26, s. 2002 and DECS Order No. 120. s. 1999 amending certain provisions of DECS Order No. 13, s. 1999. (Special thanks to Bro. George Meris of Christ Baptist Church, Soldiers Hill, Muntinlupa for bringing these DepEd regulations to my attention.)
The provisions of DepEd Order No. 26 (available in PDF format from the DepEd website) which enjoin compliance with the earlier DECS Order No. 120 are the following:
1. Declaration of Policy – The State shall, in conformity with the mandate of the Constitution, encourage and promote the teaching of religion to children in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours. The State is cognizant of the vital role that the teaching of religion assumes in citizen formation, particularly the modeling of our youth. Hence, the State recognizes the necessity of religious instruction not only in the private schools but also in public schools. For these purposes, the Department hereby provides the mechanics to enable the teaching of religion in all public elementary and high schools in the country, fully aware that the Constitution prohibits the government from favoring a particular establishment or religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Furthermore, the implementation of this Order should not entail additional cost to the government.
2. Coverage – This Order shall apply to all public elementary and high schools in the Philippines.
3. Definition of terms – As used in this Order, the following terms shall mean:
a. Religion – an institutionalized system of beliefs, attitudes and practices.
b. Values Education – the integration into the school curriculum of universally accepted as well as Filipino human, social, moral, political, economic and cultural values.
c. Optional Religious Instruction – refers to the religion classes conducted in the public elementary and high schools for students or pupils whose parents opted to exercise their rights to request religious instruction in public schools for their children or wards. The optional character of religious instruction in public schools is a prerogative or choice of the parents or guardians, who are free to request or not to request that the children under their care be instructed in the religion of their choice.
d. Regular class hours – refers to the regular or normal scheduled periods of instruction or laboratory work for a student.
e. Class period – the average length of time scheduled for one session or instructional period in a course.
4. The Teachers/Instructors – The religious teachers/instructors who teach religion classes in the public elementary and high schools shall be formally sourced or recruited by the respective principal or school heads in accordance with the corresponding request for optional religious instruction. After their designation or nomination by their respective religious authorities, said teachers/instructors shall submit to the principal or school head their proper authorization papers and request for time allocation and schedule for the optional religious instruction. Ordinary teachers teaching in a particular school may also teach their religion in the same or another school during the periods when they are free from their ordinary teaching loads, and provided they are authorized to do so by the competent religious authority of their denomination.
5. Recipient of Religious Instruction – The teachers/instructors of religion as referred to in Paragraph 4 shall be allowed to teach those pupils/students whose parents or guardians have opted to request that their children or wards be taught the religion of their choice. The option to request that their children or wards learn religion in school shall be expressed in writing by the parent or guardian who shall likewise accomplish in full the necessary application form. No student/pupil shall be allowed to attend religious instruction classes without the said written application and duly accomplished request of his/her parent or guardian.
6. The Application – The application referred to in the preceding paragraph shall clearly indicate the faith or religious instruction the student/pupil should receiver from the authorized religion teachers/instructors, and the preferred schedule for religious instruction.
7. Non-recipient of Religious Instruction – Students not receiving religious instruction or those with request but without available teacher/instructors for the particular denomination requested should be under the supervision of their respective class advisers during the time religion classes are going on.
8. Size and Scheduling of Religious Classes – The optional religious instruction shall be taught during regular class hours only and not before and after class time, nor during recess time. Religious classes should not number more than forty students of the same level and of the same religion, except where the religious authority certifies that his teacher/instructor can allow for a bigger number due to its practicality, availability of time slot/schedule, instructors/teachers, classroom materials and related matters.
The principal or school head shall fix the schedule of the religion class hours taking into account the number of the religion teachers/instructors that can be fielded by the different denominations at one time.
9. Duration of Religion Classes – The optional instruction shall be allotted at least ninety minutes a week, spread over at least two (2) but not more than three (3) meetings in one week. In no case shall the class periods be allotted less than ninety (90) minutes per week.
10. Optional Religious Instruction and Values Education – The optional religious instruction and values education of this Department are separate, different and distinct subjects. As such, religious instruction shall be allotted separate class hours. Available time slot for religious instruction should be arranged with the principal.
11. Administrative Sanctions – Any principal, school head or teacher who violates any provision of this Order shall, after due process, be subjected to appropriate disciplinary sanctions.