Feb 2, 2012

Mexico Politics: Groups warn against attempts to dismantle the secular state and benefit one church

The Catholic Church was the wealthiest and one of the most powerful political forces in the colony of New Spain. From the civil War of Reform (1858-61) through the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), its disestablishment from being a state church--with the consequent reduction of its wealth and power--was a major and violently divisive political issue.

The Constitution of 1917 defined Mexico as as a secular state. Church property was taken by the government, worship outside churches and religious education in public schools were prohibited and the number of priests restricted. The Cristero War (1926-29) was a rebellion against this severe secularization. Subsequently, compromises were worked out and, over time, the Catholic Church was allowed to regain limited property and to function within its precincts.

Currently, a constitutional amendment is being considered in Congress to allow the church to officiate at public events and teach Catholicism in the public schools. The protest reported here is a response to this possible change.

La Jornada: "Around 3,000 members of Protestant religious groups, social organizations, citizens and intellectuals demonstrated (in the center of Mexico City) against the constitutional reform of Article 24, approved by the House of Representatives last December. They are arguing that constitutional change is the basis for dismantling the secular state and provides benefits to the Catholic hierarchy, rather than guaranteeing freedom of religion that it claims to defend.

The demonstrators presented the "Citizens' Declaration for a Secular Mexcio," signed by more than 800 evangelical religious organizations and 1,600 citizens and intellectuals, and addressed to the Senate, that began its regular session yesterday, to reject that amendment and approve amendments to Article 40 to strengthen the constitutional status of the secular Mexican state.

On 15 December, the House hurriedly passed a bill to amend the said article that opens the door to the Catholic Church to officiate at public ceremonies and disseminate media without permission from the Interior Ministry, and allows the instruction of religion in public schools.

... In the document--sponsored by the Civic Forum for a Secular Mexico, a civil organization formed as a result of the proposed reform--the protesters "reject any constitutional reform aimed at stipulating privileges, we regret that you use our civil liberties as a matter of political negotiation and that a constitutional reform such as this is done in a hurry, secretly and without transparency, and we defend the secular state." Spanish original

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