Things That Matter

Mexico’s President AMLO Says He Doesn’t Support A Bill Ending The Separation Of Church & State

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known fondly as AMLO, has opposed a bill that would soften Mexico’s separation of church and state. The draft bill was proposed by a member of his left-wing Morena party. The legal separation of church and state has become all the more essential to maintaining democracy and protecting non-Christians (particularly indigenous people and Muslims) who have become increasing targets of right-wing extremist governments in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

According to the Associated Press, the new law would change the Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship to remove language that legally separates the state and churches. Experts have already weighed in claiming the law would benefit mostly evangelicals. 

AMLO thinks this issue was resolved 50 years ago. 

“I think it’s a subject that shouldn’t be touched,” Lopez Obrador said at a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City.  “It’s been resolved for more than a century and a half. The majority of Mexicans are in agreement with the lay state prevailing, what the constitution establishes.”

The controversial measure submitted by Senator Soledad Luévano Cantú would have allowed religious groups more access to “all manner of media, including TV, radio and newspapers,” and soften church property ownership regulations. It would allow the church and state to partner for social projects, allow chaplains to work on military bases and security forces, along with providing protections for conscientious objectors. 

AMLO says the separation is not an indicator of anti-religiousness but rather the law exists to provide protections for believers and non-believers. 

“‘Render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’” López Obrador said

Many religious leaders in Mexico agree with AMLO. 

The most senior Catholic leader of the country agrees with AMLO. Mexico has had a contentious relationship with the Catholic church, which had powerful overreach, leading to a civil war known as the “Cristiada.” However, in 1992 tensions eased following a meeting with the Vatican that resulted in looser restrictions for religious organizations. 

“I completely agree with the president’s statement this morning, that a secular state is one that guarantees freedoms and therefore religious freedom. The president said it very clearly and we agree,” said Carlos Aguiar Retes, primate archbishop of Mexico.

The president of the National Brotherhood of Evangelical Christian Churches, Arturo Farela, also spoke out in support of AMLO, however, he doesn’t believe the bill would have ended the separation of church and state altogether. 

“When he [López Obrador] asserts that the lay state is immovable and the separation of church and state must remain, we agree with that thought. The lay state must be a guarantor of freedoms including religious beliefs. The bill proposes that . . .” Farela said. “It doesn’t seek to end the separation [of church and state], it only proposes religious freedom,” 

Luévano’s plans would help evangelicals seize more power.

“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 on Twitter. 

The Senator describes her religious as “Guadalupana.” The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of the Roman Catholic church, but also a saint that many Mexicans identify with regardless of their religious affiliations.  

“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,” according to the Associated Press. “Chesnut said evangelicals likely see an opportunity to win more space in Mexican society under the administration of a ‘fellow traveler.’”

While evangelicalism has been on the rise in Mexico for a least a decade, U.S. Evangelical Christians began targeting Latin American countries in 2014 — after the United States federal government began to pursue the legalization of same-sex marriage. 

“If I were to speculate, the Religious Right in the U.S. sees the writing on the wall regarding gay marriage, and are going to try to influence global movements in Latin American and Africa – two places that still have very strong anti-gay secular and religious sentiments,” said Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, a Latino church expert told Reuters in 2014. 

Right-wing evangelical leaders have since taken over Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile while infiltrating other countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic. While the intentions of the bill may have been innocent (although are religious bills in politics ever innocent?) it could pose a great threat to Mexico’s future. Fortunately, it has no chance of being approved with AMLO’s opposition to it. 

However, based on the rise in right-wing leaders around the globe, one should keep a close eye on what’s happening in Mexico. 

“The lay state in Mexico almost has a kind of sacred status,” Chestnut said.

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