Mexico president opposes bill to end church-state separation

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday he does not support a proposal to further relax Mexico's strict legal separation of church and state, throwing cold water on a draft bill that would upend longstanding political doctrine in the country.

López Obrador said the initiative, presented last week by a senator from his leftist Morena party, is something that "should not be touched" and "was resolved over a century and a half ago."

Advertisement

The proposal would modify the Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship to eliminate historic language enshrining the "separation of the State and churches."

Among specific measures, it would reportedly allow religious groups greater access to all manner of media, including TV, radio and newspapers, relax regulations on church ownership of property, provide for cooperation between church and state on cultural and social development and allow "conscientious objections" to law on religious grounds.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

It would let ecclesiastical authorities do spiritual work in government facilities such as hospitals, rehab centers and even military installations.

López Obrador's party and allies control both houses of Mexico's Congress, and without the president's support, it's hard to imagine the bill winning approval.

The Mexican state long had an antagonistic relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Nineteenth-century reforms championed by López Obrador's hero Benito Juarez reigned in religious domination of much of the nation's life and the state actively persecuted the Roman Catholic church in the early part of the 20th century, prompting a civil war known as the "Cristiada."

Many of the tougher anti-clerical laws have been eased in modern times, particularly around the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II, but separation of church and state remains firmly entrenched as a core political concept.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

"I do not think that modifying this principle helps — on the contrary," López Obrador said. "... I think everyone, the majority of Mexicans, agrees that the lay state should prevail, which the constitution establishes."

The president said the lay state is not anti-religious, but rather guarantees the rights of believers and non-believers alike.

"'Render unto God what is God's and unto Caesar what is Caesar's'" López Obrador said.

The office of Sen. Soledad Luévano Cantú, who proposed the initiative, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

On Tuesday she said via Twitter that the initiative was hers alone and not authored by the president or their party, and that she believes in the rule of law and the lay state.

"With respect, tolerance and without taboos, we can work together so that thousands of religious associations in our country can help Mexico become a country where we all live better-off," Luévano wrote.

She described her faith as "Guadalupana" — that is, as a devotee of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is the Roman Catholic patroness of Mexico but also resonates with millions of non-Catholics in the country.

Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Luévano's initiative would appear to benefit mostly evangelicals and other minority religious groups in a country where 81% are Roman Catholic and the church enjoys more influence than probably anywhere else in the hemisphere, despite the legal separations between church and state.

López Obrador, who has described himself as a Christian "in the broad sense," allied during the 2018 presidential campaign with a small political party heavily influenced by evangelical churches, and observers say his discourse often tends toward the quasi-religious or even messianic. Chesnut said evangelicals likely see an opportunity to win more space in Mexican society under the administration of a "fellow traveler."

But López Obrador's comments Wednesday reflect the political inviability of the proposal after criticism came from across the political and religious spectrum, including both Catholics and the non-religious, Chesnut added: "The lay state in Mexico almost has a kind of sacred status."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

Advertisement
More: Mexico

The latest from america

The Amazon synod wrought three significant changes in the Catholic Church's way of proceeding.
Mauricio López OropezaFebruary 19, 2020
A leader of the Celia Xakriaba peoples walks along the banks of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park on Jan. 15, 2020. (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)
The apostolic exhortation “Querida Amazonia,” conveys the suffering of the Amazon and its people in stark terms, writes Vincent J. Miller. We must not be distracted from its message.
Vincent J. MillerFebruary 19, 2020
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, called on Syria and its allies to permit safe humanitarian corridors to be set up in the conflict areas.
This week on the “Inside the Vatican” podcast, the hosts take a deep dive into “Querida Amazonia.”
Colleen DulleFebruary 19, 2020