- Population: 127,575,529
- 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)
*Upcoming elections: In September 2020, the Electoral Process began to renew the Chamber of Deputies and various positions in the 32 states of the country. Election Day will be held on June 6, 2021.
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.
Although Mexico is known as one of the longest democracies in Latin America, political reality has shown that, even when elected presidents have peacefully completed their mandates for more than 90 years, this has not implied democratic quality. Throughout history, the predominant political forces have been the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).
The PRI remained in power from the years 1930 to 2000, later during the years 2012 and 2018. The PAN managed to occupy the presidency during the years 2000 to 2012. The crisis and corruption scandals around these parties, as well as the ineffectiveness in managing insecurity, led to the exhaustion of the political system and the search for substantial change.
This context made Manuel Andrés López Obrador (AMLO) the first left-wing president in the country and the National Regeneration Movement party (MORENA), the first group to overcome tripartite dominance in Mexico.
Corruption is a current problem in the different branches of government, without effective measures to counteract it. Inequality and illegality continue to be serious issues in the country, the economic crisis has also worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, drug trafficking and other armed groups and/or cartels continue to exercise de facto power through violence in territories throughout the country, which has caused, among other things, the internal displacement of thousands of people.
Human rights defenders, environmental defenders, journalists, the media and religious leaders continue to be criminalized and victims of threats and/or assassinations.
The violation of human rights caused by state and non-state actors is also a constant concern. Torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions continue to be reported, among other excesses and abuses committed by the National Guard (a security body with a military nature) and the armed forces involved in public security tasks and/or against organized crime. The OAS, like the UN and other national civil society organizations, have questioned the deployment of the National Guard on the country’s borders and the repressive forms of containment of migrants that increase their situation of vulnerability.
In the third year of the AMLO government, the promised “Fourth Transformation” is far from being fulfilled.
General Description of the State of Religious Freedom
The Mexican regulatory framework contemplates the protection of the right to religious freedom through different legal documents:
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|
Regarding religious affiliation, Mexico has a large Christian population, predominantly Catholic. However, the 2020 Population and Housing Census of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) showed that the percentage of Catholics decreased from 82.9% to 77.7%. This marks a sustained downward trend in recent years. On the other hand, the number of Protestants and atheists increased.
Other minority religious groups present in the country include Jews, Bahamians, Muslims, Buddhists, and indigenous religions.
Among the most visible religious organizations in the country, in addition to the Catholic Church, we can mention the National Confraternity of Evangelical Christian Churches (CONFRATERNICE), a group that has evangelical representation before the government and that has had a close relationship with AMLO during the campaign and later, during his term in office.
Similarly, there are more than 30 Interreligious Councils (autonomous groupings of associations and congregations) installed in the different states of Mexico; that seek to strengthen relations between them, the government, and civil society organizations to deal with issues of national interest.
At the normative level, the 1992 Constitution establishes a secular form of government and recognizes that everyone has the right to freedom of ethical convictions, conscience, and religion. Thanks to this constitution and the Law of Religious Associations and Worship, legal personality was provided to the various religious groups in the country, however, there are still limitations to the public performance of religious associations and their leaders.
Among them, we can mention the provisions that prohibit ministers of worship from holding public office, without having previously renounced their status as ministers, the denial of the right to own or administer concessions for the exploitation of communication media or the prohibition towards the authorities of attending with official character, a religious act of public worship.
The secular form of government – also as a result of the historical anticlericalism of the time of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) – has implied a sharp rejection of the relations between religion and politics in the country.
For this reason, AMLO’s relationship with Christian groups and his references to religious symbols/language both during his campaign and during his time in government has led to the activism of various opinion leaders and secular groups who oppose any form of religious expression in the public sphere under the argument of respect for church-state separation.
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:
- Nun attacked during an aid campaign in Chiapas: On November 18, a humanitarian aid brigade was attacked by members of a paramilitary group in the community of Tabak, Aldama, Chiapas, Mexico. As a result, María Isabel Hernández Rea, a nun, was shot in the right leg and had to be treated in hospital. Cáritas San Cristóbal de Las Casas and the Mexican Trust for the Health of Indigenous Children (FISANIM) were delivering food and aid to displaced families when a paramilitary group opened fire and attacked the air brigade.
- Father Ángel Espino García receives death threats: Father Ángel Espino, priest of the Church of the Divine Child Jesus denounced having received death threats through anonymous messages. He is recognized for his defense of the environment, ecology, defense of natural resources, as well as reforestation days.
- Christians expelled after not participating in Catholic holiday: Members of the Protestant church refused to participate in Catholic festivities. After a meeting with the village authorities, the two leaders of the church were imprisoned, the next day the Christian families were expelled.
- Radical feminist groups vandalize Catholic temples: During the commemoration of International Women’s Day, various Catholic temples were vandalized and painted with graffiti. The cathedral of Hermosillo in Sonora, the Cathedral of Campeche, the Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Minor Seminary and the Motolinia School in Veracruz, the monument to Fray Antonio Alcalde y Barriga in Guadalajara, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico and the National Expiatory Temple of San Felipe de Jesús in CDMX.
Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Mexico (2018-2020)
|(Attempts) to destroy, vandalize or desecrate places of worship or religious buildings||34||13||52|
|Closed places of worship or religious buildings||3||1||0|
|Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse)||28||27||45|
|Attacked houses/property of faith adherents||9||2||2|
|Attacked shops, businesses or institutions of faith adherents||0||5||1|
|Forced to leave Home||27||105||39|
|Forced to leave Country||0||1 5||0|
Information and/or data from previous years can be found on our Violent Incidents Database
|World Watch List, Open Doors International (2021)||Private sphere||10.3|
|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|
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)
|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.