Mexico

Country Profile

 

 

 

 

  • Population: 126,190,788
  • Main Language: Spanish
  • Official Religion: None
  • Main Religion: Predominantly Christian and majority Catholic Christian
  • Other Religions: Buddhists, Ethnoreligionist, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, among others
  • Indigenous Population: 5% of the population recognizes itself as indigenous.
  • President: Manuel Andrés López Obrador (2018-2024)

Legal Framework

The Mexican State is a representative, democratic, and federal Republic. Its political organization follows the principle of division of powers, and its normative hierarchy considers the Federal Constitution to be the supreme basis of the entirely legal system. In that sense, the constitutional block is made up of the Constitution, the laws issued by the Congress of the Union, and the international treaties signed by Mexico.

Because it is an essential human right, its content and scope must be respected by all Mexican states that make up the federation, within the limits established by the constitutional block.

 

Figure 1: Religious Freedom – Main legal framework

Religious Education Freedom of religion Political participation of religious leaders Church-State Relationship Places of worship / Patrimonial Regime Registry of Religious Institutions Internal organization or religious institutions
Political Constitution of the United Mexican States
Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship
Regulation of the Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship

Own elaboration

General Description of the State of Religious Freedom

In spite of the fact that 94.10% of its population self-identifies as Christian, specific subgroups of Christians experience different forms of persecution.

Article 24 of Mexico’s Constitution enshrines religious freedom, and Mexico is a signatory to all major international human rights treaties; however, in general, religious institutions face significant restrictions. Mexico’s anti-clericalism is not as stringent as it used to be at the time of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), especially since the adoption of a series of constitutional amendments in 1992. Yet, according to the Religion and State Project (Bar-Ilan University, Israel), the separation between state and church – at least at the normative level – remains strict, with some forms of religious expression being forbidden in the public sphere. Religious education is allowed only in private schools. After President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) started the debate on radio concessions, Evangelical groups sought to modify the Law of Religious Associations and operate radio, television, and other media stations. At the present time, with the recent approach of the current president towards the Christian denomination in the country (especially the Protestant denomination), historic anti-clericalism is reinforced by the activism of a number of leading opinion makers who oppose any form of religious expression in the public sphere, either by confessional or state actors. It remains to be seen, however, how the new dynamics between the state and churches will evolve in the short term.

A. Hostility to religious expressions by state and non-state actors

This is understood not as the tendency by which people identify increasingly less as believers, or participate less in religious practices (secularization), but as the phenomenon by which Christian voices find obstacles to expressing themselves freely in the Mexican public sphere. On the one hand, Christians’ faith based-opinions are often portrayed as hate speech within the framework of anti-discrimination laws, especially on issues related to the defense of life, marriage, and family. Furthermore, Christians speaking up or participating in the public realm run the risk to be accused of breaking the separation between religion and state (secularism).

As a result, this restriction on religious freedom has manifested itself on more than one occasion. Those who express their Christian teachings/points of view regarding the aforementioned issues – either in religious activities or not – run the risk of being accused of discrimination, proselytism, and/or incitement to hatred; being expelled from their parties, and being censored under a radical interpretation of the principle of secularism. They have also faced boycotts of events organized by leaders and/or religious groups, and vandalism against temples of worship, especially Christians.

B. Hostility towards religious conversion in indigenous communities

There is considerable pressure on Christians in indigenous and peasant areas in Mexico. Indigenous communities are governed by a special shared worldview. It is according to this worldview – which is different for each indigenous community – that aspects important to indigenous life in society can be understood. This includes political, economic, and cultural aspects, even the relationship with the environment and religion. Because the religious aspect within indigenous communities largely shapes their lives in society, those who decide not to continue with the population’s syncretic practices due to religious conversion may become a victim of hostilities.

This abandonment of the indigenous syncretistic rites, due to the conversion to Christianity (mostly Protestant, although there is also evidence of Catholics doing the same) has been a source of conflict within the indigenous community. It has even led to the expulsion of indigenous converts under the consideration that those members who do not fulfill their community duties or abandon the religious beliefs of the community “challenge” the system and stability of the community.

In this context, and considering the far-reaching state recognition of the indigenous autonomy as a community right, state intervention is hardly ever effective. The broad protection for “usos y costumbres” [uses and habits] is often in conflict with legal norms related to freedom of worship. As a result, Christians have been fined, jailed, beaten, and displaced because of their faith. This dynamic manifests itself mainly in indigenous areas and in collective farms (ejidos). While this dynamic is widely recognized by various reports and international outlets, it is often mistakenly presented as a conflict opposing Catholics and Protestants; it should rather be viewed as a form of ethno-religious conflict in which the behavior of actively practicing Christian groups conflicts with the political and economic interests of community leaders.

The restrictions of religious freedom and other intersecting rights against those converted have manifested themselves through arbitrary detentions and/or arrests, cuts of basic services, family and social ostracism, expulsions, and forced labor, among others.

C. The regulation of religion by organized crime

Religious leaders can be important allies in building communities and societies. Because of their moral authority, these religious leaders enjoy strong popular legitimacy and profoundly influence the attitudes and behaviors of members in their communities. Sometimes, religious leaders are the only interlocutors between the people and the government, so their leadership is considered a ‘competing relationship’ with the leadership of armed criminal groups trying to control certain territories in the country. This point is especially important, especially in a country like Mexico, where drug cartels have been established that operate to a greater or lesser extent throughout the country.

Keeping in mind the aforementioned, in areas that are controlled by organized crime, the enforcement of religious freedom is a major issue. Violence is pervasive but affects actively practicing Christians to a high degree. They experience pressure and high levels of violence from cartels or organized crime networks, a context that is possible on many occasions, thanks to the complicity of government officials. A number of reports have stressed the impact of organized crime on Christians. For example, a report by the International Crisis Group on criminal cartels and rule of law in Mexico refers to priests, although the report chooses to focus on journalists and human rights defenders (2013:30). The International Religious Freedom report by the US State Department states that “Catholic priests and other religious leaders continued to be targeted and were the victims of killings, extortion attempts, death threats, kidnappings, and intimidation by organized-crime groups.” (2018). The Catholic Multimedial Center reported criminal groups targeting priests and Catholic temples in different Mexican states. In hearings at the US Congress, “narco-persecution” in Mexico has also been denounced.

Intimidation and submission through violent means against Christians and religious activities can lead to a limitation of religious ceremonies. In many areas, religious leaders have decided not to organize evening meetings for security reasons, and in some areas, no ceremony was held. These restrictions are a form of “self-imposed curfew”. On the other hand, religious leaders and sometimes their families can become victims of threats, extortion, and kidnapping. They can even be killed, either as intimidation or retaliation for their activities involving evangelization, the defense of human rights, defense of the environment, or the denunciation of corruption and criminal activities, provided that they oppose the interests of criminal groups.

Violent Incidents Database

The Violent Incident Database (VID) is a service by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America, designed to collect, record, and analyze violent incidents related to violations of religious freedom.

In many cases, the limitations on religious freedom previously explained have led to violent incidents in the country, both against religious leaders or religious groups, and even against places of worship, among others.

 The following cases reported on the platform, illustrate the state of religious freedom in the country:

  • Christian churches vandalized: In the context of Women’s International Day, the National Expiatory Temple of San Felipe de Jesus located in the Historic Center of Mexico City was vandalized by radical feminist groups with the messages “It’s my body”, “legal, free and safe abortion”, and “I decide, ”among others.
  • Christian temple attacked in Nahuac community: A temple of worship under construction was attacked because indigenous Christians who abandoned the community syncretic practices built it.
  • Pastor Ricardo Alcaraz kidnapped for defending migrants: The Northeast Cartel (CDN) is accused of kidnapping the pastor of the Perfect Love Christian Church, for his defense of migrants, as he refused to hand them over so that the drug trafficking group could extort the relatives of the undocumented.

 

Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Mexico (2017-2019)

Incidents 2017 2018 2019
Killings 15 16 7
(Attempts) to destroy, vandalize or desecrate places of worship or religious buildings 9 34 12
Closed places of worship or religious buildings 0 3 1
Arrests/detentions 6 10 20
Sentences 0 1 2
Abductions 83 2 7
Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse) 205 28 27
Attacked houses/property of faith adherents 2 9 2
Attacked shops, businesses or institutions of faith adherents 0 0 5
Forced to leave Home 116 27 105
Forced to leave Country 0 0 15

Information and/or data from previous years can be found on our Violent Incidents Database

Indicators

Index Variables Mexico
World Watch List, Open Doors International (2019) Private sphere 8.3
Family sphere 7.5
Community sphere 12.2
National sphere 10.2
Church sphere 9.7
Violence 13.5
Total score 47.9
Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016
Pew Research Center (2018)
Government Restrictions Index (GRI) 4.4
Social Hostilities Index (SHI) 5.9
Government religious preference, Religious Characteristics of States Data Project
Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion (2015)
Government Religious Preference composite score – preferred religion (PRFGRP) 1.4
Government Religious Preference composite score – non-preferred religion (NPRFGRP) 1.4
The Main Religion and State Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Official Religion (SAX) No
Official Support (SBX) Separationist: Official separation of Church and state and the state is slightly hostile toward religion. This includes efforts to remove expression of religion by private citizens from the public sphere.
Religious Discrimination Against Minority Religions (MXX) 11
Regulation of and Restrictions on the Majority Religion or All Religions (NXX) 20
Specific Types of Religious Support (LXX) 4
Societal Module
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence against minority religions: General (WSOCDISX2014) 14
Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the majority religion (WMIN2MAJX2014) 0
Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the other minority religions (WMIN2MINX2014) 0
Societal regulation of religion (WSOCREGX2014) 3
CIRI Human Rights Data Project (2011) Freedom of religion (NEW_RELFRE) 1
Religion and State-Minorities Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Governmental Discrimination (MMXX2014)
Animists
2
Jehovahs Witnesses 3
Jews 0
Muslims 0
Protestants 11
International Religious Freedom Data
The Association of Religion Date Archives (2008)
Government Regulation of Religion Index (GRI_08) 3.1
Government Favoritism of Religion Index (GFI_08) 1.7
Social Regulation of Religion Index (MSRI_08) 6.6
Religious Freedom Rating
Hudson Institute (2007)
Religious Freedom Scale 4

For more data about the indicators click here.

Public Policy Recommendations

  • The Mexican government, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, UN, and the international community should cooperate with indigenous authorities to integrate freedom of religion, or belief as a fundamental right into indigenous laws, and develop a plan to set out how to preserve traditional cultures and values while guaranteeing the coexistence of different faiths.
  • The government should guarantee by law and in practice the full rights and equal treatment and benefits of all religious minorities, including Protestant Christianity. In order to do so, it is necessary that the constitutional protection of religious freedom follows the established in Article 18 of the UNDHR, and facilitates its legislative development in each Federative entity and the application of its content by the institutions of the state. The treatment of matters of religion has been reduced to respecting state-church secular principles a great number of times, and this carries with it many misinterpretations that leave Christians of all denominations unprotected.
  • The international community should pay special attention to the position of vulnerable groups in Mexico, particularly actively practicing Christians. They should also recognize the violations of religious freedom, including the vulnerability of Christians in the context of organized crime (particularly Christians engaged in social work with youths and drug addicts), without the situations being ignored or minimized by their relationship with the Church, or by fear of reprisals by aggressors. Efforts in the fields of state reform, corruption prevention, and strengthening of the rule of law and human rights, are also essential to Mexican society.
  • Mexico is one of the signatories of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. However, corruption levels within the country are high. Mexico is also the country with the world’s highest number of abductions. The international community should assist the government in tackling corruption at all levels. In addition, the infiltration of organized crime in public institutions by means of corruption should be addressed as a priority.

Publications

 

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The Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America is a program of the Foundation Platform for Social Transformation, a registered charity in Voorburg, The Netherlands under Chamber of Commerce #50264249.

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