CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


Religious Liberty Issues in Mexico

President of the Commission for Religious Freedom and Equality

Seminar RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AS A GLOBAL PROBLEM sponsored by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) at University of Southern California University Club, February 15, 2018

The law of today needs to operate with a clear delimitation between the public and the private domains. Absolutisms or totalitarianism, or the theocratic state cannot aspire to be secular, because they claim to govern or control individual consciences, among other things; that is, they violate the private sphere that is where all freedom is born.

The Constitutions of all the countries, like most of the Social Pacts throughout the democratic world, begin by detailing individual guarantees or human rights. This assumes that the conscience and the will of the individual are the main component of political freedom.

To speak of a democratic State is to speak of a State that must guarantee one of the most important ingredients of a society to fully understand it, freedom of conscience, in other words, it is impossible to understand a democratic State without accepting that it is composed of other things, of people who believe individually and who develop this belief from their inner self without anyone or anything preventing them from doing so. It is important to realize that in several places the demand for a new, modern and civil structure has appeared, for all the components of society. Little by little, a very particular phenomenon of democracies has emerged: the specific recognition of minority social groups, respect for their very particular culture and idiosyncrasy.

In Mexico, in 1991, President Salinas judged that the situation was ripe enough to promote a new relationship or legal status of the churches, (for the first time it was referred to “churches”, in plural) treating as peers many other religious groups that had different beliefs, including the Catholic Church. However, to date, things have not reached the intended maturity. The separation of the State and the Churches, the guiding principle in the issue of religious freedom in Mexico, continues to face in the XXI century two great risks that are opposed to each other, but equally harmful: 1) the inadequate interference of institutions and religious hierarchies in official decisions and 2) intolerance towards the free expression of religious beliefs. And these two complementary rights, overlap each other on this issue. Firstly, the right of every citizen to a State that does not impose religious criteria and secondly, the right of every citizen to live and freely express the faith they want.

Everyone should have the right to believe whatever they want and exercise that belief freely. The State must guarantee that the beliefs of others will not prevail over mine. The aim should be to create a framework and common ground where everyone, absolutely everyone, can coexist and live together. Therefore, it would no longer be a matter of "war", but of freedom, respect, recognizing the practices and beliefs of others without necessarily sharing them.

In my opinion, in Mexico, one can gather the problem of religious freedom in three major aspects:

1.The Indigenous communities who convert to Protestantism and are being violated and attacked for going against the uses and practices of the community they belong to, by professing a different religion.

2.The new religious groups that suffer intolerance in the hands of traditionalist and conservative sectors of the Catholic Church, who tend to deter and hinder their free pursuit of beliefs, arguing that the only religion should be the one that has been practiced over the years in traditional Mexican families. These shadowy interests are perceived to be affected by the work carried out by the new churches.

3.Organized crime that through drug trafficking, is violating the religious freedom of ministers of religion who get extorted, kidnapped and, at worse, murdered.

Regarding the first aspect, I must explain that many of the Indigenous communities in Mexico suffer from religious intolerance when they are pressured to profess only the religious beliefs of that community and prohibit any other, otherwise, they claim that the uses and practices of the community are lost. Those who defend their freedom of religious belief and do not accept the conditions of the authorities of that community are often harmed. Their water and gas services are cut off, they are prohibited to buy or sell inside the community, children are forbidden to go to school, women are suspended from government assistance, and in the worst case, they are incarcerated demanding that they sign their renounce to their faith. By not doing so, they are expelled from the community with a ban on returning. They are dispossessed of their homes and lands and the social problem grows in a serious way since no governmental authority assumes the risk of applying the law in favor of those who have been violated in their human rights.

The problem is as follows: traditional Indigenous people demand respect for Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution where self-determination is recognized, and to decide their internal forms of coexistence and social, economic, political and cultural organization, to apply their own normative systems in the regulation of conflicts. However, they omit the last part of that paragraph, which specifies that the foregoing must always be subject to the general principles of the Constitution, respecting individual guarantees, human rights and, in a relevant manner, the dignity and integrity of women. Interpreting Article 2 in this way, they oppose article 24, which establishes that every person has the right to freedom of ethical convictions, conscience and religion.

The authority, in most cases, only submits to seek dialogue between the parties involved, but in this dialogue it is difficult to get those expelled from the communities, to return to their homes.

The second aspect we are referring to is the new religious groups that suffer from many bureaucratic procedures, from political oppositions to conservative religious groups, in order to obtain their recognition as Religious Associations. The arguments of those who oppose to these religious groups being recognized by the State are not valid, but rather, are violating human rights. If there were any administrative offenses or crimes to be prosecuted in the church, the competent authorities must act according to the law, but should never limit the right to obtain the state recognition when the law so provides.

The case of the Church of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology faced opinions and criteria from some authorities that blocked, on more than one occasion, the intention of the Church to process their registration as a religious association. This shows us that the conservatism of some groups, mainly of the main religion in Mexico, continues to influence considerably.

The first attempt to register the Church of Scientology followed a favorably procedure until its publication in the Official Gazette of the Federation. Within the time allowed by the law for a possible opposition, there was a person who argued, in a deficient manner, that the recognition of that Church affected their personal interests. The authority gave course to this opposition so that later it would issue its resolution of the dismissal of said procedure, agreeing with the opponent, arguing that the Church had not proven its antiquity and rootedness. If that were the case, the obligatory question would be: Why was the verdict to the request affirmative and published in the Official Gazette of the Federation? This circumstance forced the Church to process different trails before the judicial power.

In the second attempt at registration, the legal aspects were taken care of in a very special way to get to the publication in the Official Gazette of the Federation. Again, within the term of the law, now an Evangelical Church opposed the registry, arguing that it affected its legal sphere. The response of the Church of Scientology in its defense was overwhelming and the authority did not accept the opposition of the Evangelical Church, continuing with the legal procedure until obtaining the registration as a Religious Association. The law and the rights triumphed!

A third aspect that I must mention very quickly due to not being an expert on the subject is when religious freedom is affected by organized crime. Sadly in Mexico, religious ministers are being threatened, extorted, kidnapped and even killed, increasingly. We know that the issue is delicate and that insecurity in Mexico is very high. The drug cartels are advancing in certain areas of the country and now the ministers of religion live in fear of carrying out their work. Therefore, at this moment, it is my duty to speak in favor of all those who, despite the circumstances, have the courage to express and share their religious beliefs.


On the issue regarding religious freedom, it is necessary to remember values ​​such as Dignity, Equality, Tolerance and Respect.

Dignity is the source of legal recognition of all rights and the central axis of the perspective of religions towards people. In every religion, the concept of dignity is fundamental to define and understand the human being. Each one is based on different perspectives, but all agree that the human being, from his condition and dignity, is one.

From dignity follows equality. Legal equality offers the possibility of establishing fair relationships among human beings, and religion then takes a central role, whilst it manages to enhance its recognition and promote non-discrimination.  

Respect is a value that implies the practice of relationships where dignity and equality are the core. But it is also an attitude towards difference. By understanding it this way, we can separate ourselves from our ideologies, practices or beliefs and favor a respectful treatment towards others, without falling into relativism. It is important to understand that what is respected is not the ideas or beliefs of the people, but the people themselves who express their beliefs and ideas differently from my own. Thus, first the person is respected and this opens the possibility of knowing and understanding their stance.

Tolerance is assumed as a principle of respect, although it has not been possible to move towards deeper forms that allow knowledge and understanding of the other. Many understand tolerance as a need to accept the other which does not imply a relationship but in an attitude of convenience. Tolerance alone is not enough. There can be tolerance with ignorance. I ignore you, and I tolerate your presence, however, by not knowing you, it is very easy not to respect you. Tolerance must be understood as a necessary condition to achieve respect towards difference.

It is necessary, before anything, else that the members of the different Churches, as well as the authorities of any level, respect individual consciences. Thus the State must govern for all, regardless of their religious doctrine, and the believing citizen in a religious doctrine or not, must understand that he lives in society and that this is plural and multicultural.

The passion is interesting, but more so, is respect for the rights of others, because peace is born between individuals and between any State or institution.

We must not forget that the growth of the population, of the communities, and the different livelihoods, require new spaces and therefore new frameworks and legal schemes that ensure the peaceful coexistence of all, with different beliefs in different cults, but within the same civil relationship scheme.

There is no perfect religious society; no church can be conceived as having all the powers, rights and other means necessary to achieve its goal, being therefore self-sufficient and autonomous in its own order. They must be understood as forming part of a society regardless of frontiers, or belonging to a spiritual sovereignty and without territorial location. The possibility of finding oneself in a plural world is opened then, where the freedom of beliefs and religion should be what predominates, to believe or not to believe, to change of belief makes a society mature recognizing the differences of others as an opportunity and not as an obstacle.

Let's change the "I am right and you are wrong" for a "I believe in it or I live my life in one way and you in a different one."