Religion in Mexico:
Mexico is a country with incredible problems, including massive poverty;
restricted human rights; political corruption; wife abuse and murder;
discrimination, repression, and marginalization of the indigenous population;
military attacks on civilians; regular use of torture by the police; random
extermination of homosexuals; forced sterilizations; the presence of 130,000
street children, etc.
According to a Human Rights Practices report by the U.S. State
"The Constitution [of Mexico] provides for freedom of religion, and
Congress may not enact laws that establish or prohibit any religion. The
Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there are some
restrictions at the local level. State and municipal governments generally
protect this right; however, some local officials infringe on religious freedom,
especially in the south. In 1998 the Government and representatives of many
religious denominations signed a religious code of conduct that reaffirms
freedom of religion. The law bars the clergy from holding public office,
advocating partisan political views, supporting political candidates, or
opposing the laws or institutions of the State." 1
According to a U.S. State Department report on Religious Freedom for
Church and state in Mexico:
The European invasion by Spanish Conquistadors in the early 16th century
killed many natives in what is now Mexico, and resulted in the forced religious
conversion of most of the survivors to Roman Catholicism.
After Mexico became self-governing in 1810, liberals accused the Roman Catholic
church of opposing social change and supporting dictators. The 1857 and 1917
Mexican constitutions went beyond separation of church and state and actually
oppressed the Church. They prohibited the church from owning property, outlawed
public religious ceremonies, closed Catholic schools and banned religious
education in the country.
A revolution in 1910 was followed by a brutal religious war by Catholic
peasants called the Cristero Rebellion (1926-29). Tens of thousands died. The
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took over the federal government.
For many decades, the church stayed out of politics and avoided criticizing the
government. It was only during the 1980s that priests began to speak out against
human rights abuses, government repression, electoral fraud and in favor of
socioeconomic justice. 3 In the early 1990s, the PRI began to
relax its anti-clerical laws. It permitted nuns and priests to vote, allowed
public religious services, and tolerated priests and nuns wearing religious
After 71 years in power, the PRI was voted out of office in 2000-JUL. The
center-right National Action Party (PAN), under Vicente Fox, took over.
The Catholic Church played a major role in the defeat of the PRI. They stated
that any voter who refused to vote was committing a moral sin. In a pastoral
letter of 2000-MAR, a bishops called for "a reformulation of the whole
political system." He added, "If power does not change hands, there is no
democratic transition." 1
"Religious groups cannot operate legally without registering as religious
associations with the Undersecretariat of Religious Affairs of the Federal
Secretariat of Government. Although the Government does reject a few
applications, usually due to incomplete documentation, the registration process
is routine." 1
Harassment and violence against Protestants:
According to the State Department report for the year 2001:
"There were incidents of violence between religious groups in Chiapas
[state] during.... The situation in Chiapas is a result of a complex mix
of economic, ethnic, political, and religious tensions. There is a history of
religious intolerance in, and expulsions from, certain indigenous communities
whose residents follow syncretistic (Catholic / Mayan) religious practices and
view other religious practices as a threat to indigenous culture..." 1
The report continues:
"There is a history of religious intolerance in, and expulsions from,
certain indigenous communities whose residents follow syncretistic
(Catholic/Mayan) religious practices and view other religious practices as a
threat to indigenous culture. In parts of Chiapas, local leaders of indigenous
communities sometimes regard evangelical groups as unwelcome outside influences
and potential economic and political threats. As a result, these leaders
sometimes acquiesced in, or actually ordered, the harassment or expulsion of
individuals belonging primarily, but not exclusively, to Protestant evangelical
groups. In many cases, these expulsions involved the burning of homes and crops,
beatings, and, occasionally, killings. On several occasions, village officials
temporarily detained Evangelicals for resisting participation in community
festivals. The abuse related to these and other incidents apparently did not
occur solely and exclusively on the basis of religion. While religious
differences were often a prominent feature of such incidents, ethnic
differences, land disputes, and struggles over local political and economic
power were most often the basic cause of the problems."
"There were reports of conflict between Catholic/Mayan syncretists and
Protestant evangelicals in Chiapas. For example in late January, local leaders
expelled 150 Protestant evangelicals from their homes in Justo Sierra, Chiapas;
and beat several men, according to the Evangelical Commission for the Defense of
Human Rights (CEDEH). A formal complaint was filed with the state prosecutor's
office in Comitan, and on June 27, state judicial police arrested three
community officials. On November 25, 27 families returned to their homes
accompanied by Governor Salazar, who had mediated talks between the 2 sides; the
3 community officials also were released and returned home."
"Tension between Catholic/Mayan syncretists and evangelical groups continues
to be a problem in the municipality of San Juan Chamula. In 2000 CEDEH claimed
that municipal authorities had expelled 30,000 persons in the 30 years. However,
this report was not confirmed, and a representative from the CNDH told the press
on April 19 that there are no official statistics on the displaced.
Approximately 130 children of evangelicals have been denied access to the local
public schools in 6 communities since 1994."
"On April 12, in the community of San Nicolas, Ixmiquilpan municipality,
Hidalgo, more than 30 Protestant Evangelical families were threatened by a local
official with expulsion by June 18, if they did not contribute money and cement
blocks to a community celebration. On August 22, the state governor and the
Secretariat of Government's Undersecretary for Religious Affairs convened a
meeting with evangelical representatives and town leaders and negotiated an
agreement between the parties. Water service to the evangelical families,
disrupted for months by local leaders, was restored in late August."
"The Adventist Church reported that individuals in the communities of Vicente
Guerrero and Juan Sabines have complained that the opening of an Adventist
church in neighboring Francisco I. Madero, Tecapatan municipality, would violate
local 'practices and customs.' In March Francisco I. Madero residents requested
local government assistance in relieving tension among the communities and
convincing the neighboring communities of the Adventists' right to use their
place of worship. This report could not be confirmed. In Chiapas the Adventists
viewed the local government as reluctant to intervene in towns governed by
traditional 'practices and customs.' "
"In May four other incidents of intolerance were reported, three in Chiapas
and one in Puebla state. In two Chiapas communities, Protestant evangelicals
reportedly were detained by community members for failing to make financial
donations in support of the syncretistic Catholic celebration of Santa Cruz.
Adventists in Tapachula were accused of playing loud music in front of Catholic
churches while Mass was being conducted, allegedly infringing upon the rights of
their neighbors to unimpeded worship. Finally, in a Puebla community, an
Adventist pastor was threatened while proselytizing." 1
BaptistFire maintains a collections of news items about persecution of
Protestants in Mexico. 4
Killing of "Witches:"
Definitions of terms:
The terms "Witch" and
"Witchcraft" have six main
unrelated meanings, and many additional
In North America, "Witch" and "Witchcraft" most often
refer to a Wiccan and the religion of Wicca. Wicca is a
gentle, benign, healing religion
which is was recently created from ancient Celtic beliefs, practices, holy days
and symbols. Wiccans / Witches are prohibited by the Wiccan Rede from harming, manipulating,
dominating or controlling others.
Among Aboriginal people in Africa, Asia, South America, and
elsewhere, "Witch" refers to an evil sorcerer who is dedicated to
manipulating, dominating or controlling others.
These two meanings are, in many ways, opposites. Unfortunately,
they are often confused.
Many residents of Mexico -- especially in the southern state of Chiapas --
follow a syncretistic religion that combines Roman Catholicism with ancient
Mayan and other Aboriginal beliefs. The latter date from the pre-Hispanic era, and include a
fear of "witches."
During the 1990s, as many as twelve men in Chiapas state
were thought to be witches and were hacked to death with machetes. In 1996,
a mob beat and hanged a man that they accused of capturing his victims
souls, trapping them in bottles and hiding them in a cave. Diego Hernandez
Lopez was believed to be a witch by the residents of the nearby Indian
village of San Juan Chamula. On 2002-SEP-14, gunmen burst into his home and
shot seven adults and two children. Five adults died in the attack. Two
children, one seven months old and the other two years old, were injured.
Related essays on this web site:
"Mexico: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," U.S.
Department of State, 2002-MAR-4, at:
"U.S. Department of State: Annual Report on International Religious
Freedom for 1999: Mexico," 1999-SEP-9, at:
John Ward Anderson and Garance Burke, "Mexican Church Sheds Cloak of
Political Silence: Bishops Assail Enshrined Practices," Washington Post,
"Persecution in Mexico," BaptistFire.com, at:
"Alleged witchcraft practitioner, 3 others killed by Mexican gunmen,"
Associated Press, 2002-SEP-16, at:
"4 fatally shot in attack on alleged witch," Associated Press,
Copyright © 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-SEP
Latest update: 2003-JAN-8
Author: B.A. Robinson