Politics, World, Americas

Mexico: President rejects bill to relax secularism

Mexican president, politicians reject bill that would relax constitutional wording around separation of church, state

Sierra Juarez   | 19.12.2019
Mexico: President rejects bill to relax secularism  Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador


Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that he is against a recent proposal that could ease the separation between church and state in the country.

Senator Soledad Luevano Cantu, a member from the president’s leftist Morena party, drafted a bill that would erase wording from the Mexican Constitution, which requires the separation of church and state.

Among other things, the proposed revision would allow people to evade certain laws or rules by claiming religious exemptions.

It would also make it easier for churches to own property, and institutions would have much more access to use media, like radio and TV, to spread religious messages.

These measures could potentially benefit minority religious groups – outside of the Catholic church – because they would have the opportunity to better circulate information about their faith.

What politicians are saying

The Mexican president said that the bill is not being considered “from the presidency” and that Mexico should continue to be a strictly “lay” or secular country.

“It is just a project, as far as I’m concerned. I consider this an issue that should not be touched,” Lopez Obrador said.

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have voiced concern over the proposal.

But Luevano Cantu thinks the current law for the separation of church and state is too rigid and out of date.

“With respect, tolerance and without taboos, we can work together so that thousands of religious associations in our country can help Mexico be a country where we all live better,” she tweeted.

Current relationship between chuch and state

The current law favors the state over the church. That’s because liberals and revolutionaries, dating back to the Mexican revolution, thought that the Roman Catholic Church could have too much power over political life in Mexico, which at one point was about 95% Catholic.

To make sure that the church wouldn’t have a monopoly over the government, the law has remained strict against religion.

For example, the Catholic church has long desired to have a say in public education, but the current law prohibits that. While the new proposal would not give the Catholic church the entry key to public education, experts say it could be a step in that direction.

Future of the proposal

If passed, Luevano Cantu’s proposal would give religious institutions more rights in the political sphere, according to Matthew Butler, a professor who studies the Mexican church and state at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The law could be a very serious blow to the lay quality of the Mexican state,” Butler said. “It would potentially allow religious groups to enter into social, political and cultural life in ways that they haven’t been able to do in a very long time.”

Academics have noted that the government under Lopez Obrador has been slowly opening the door to religious institutions. Over the last year, the government has encouraged religious organizations to participate in social projects.

So although the president has publicly announced that he’s not in support of the proposal and Luevano Cantu tweeted that she alone put forward the bill, there could be support outside of the public eye.

“It may be that Lopez Obrador does not personally drive this, but that doesn’t mean that we’re 100% not going to have this,” Butler said.

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