Symposium 2014: Mexico

Reported by Gaylee Coverston

In this session, Center International Fellow J. Stanley Martineau moderated, with Víctor Hugo Sánchez Zebadúa, Sub-Secretary of Religious Affairs of the State Government of Chiapas, Alberto Patiño Reyes, Professor of Law and Religion in the department of the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, Vicente Segú Marcos, Director of “La Fundación”, and Jorge Lee Galindo, Director General, Lee and Associates  Law Practice.

The session began with Víctor Hugo Sánchez Zebadúa discussing the south of Mexico and current affairs in the state of Chiapas. He stated that religious freedom is not a new concept in the state or country. Many religions have been present since the second half of the 19th century. He declared that Mexico and the state of Chiapas could become a fortress for all as respect is developed and nurtured. To achieve peaceful coexistence, respect for diversity must exist , particularly as religion plays and important part of our lives and cultural identity. Mexico was built on a traditional, religious authority and has discovered that conflicts occur as people exercise their freedom of conscience and convert to other belief systems than the traditional one. Sometimes traditional authority can violently assault those who choose different practices and religious beliefs. Constitutionally, unparalleled changes were made to allow religious freedom many years ago. As we adhere to the rule of law and apply respect and freedoms within the framework of the law, these freedoms will work. Much needs to be done and dialogue is still necessary as we work toward tolerance, which is an active attitude. Current propaganda programs to ensure religious freedom include billboards throughout the community and in schools. Diverse religious leaders from across the south of Mexico met together for an interreligious dialogue and created a council to help prevent future problems. These many religions have unified to create the “Encuentro de Voces por la Paz,” a choir presentation with the purpose of building peace and fraternity among the diverse beliefs. Secretary Sánchez Zebadúa concluded with a video showing segments of this beautiful presentation. 

Then Professor Alberto Patiño Reyes discussed religious freedom laws and constitutional concepts in effect in Mexico. He stated that Article 40 of the constitution declares Mexico a secular state. He also detailed the articles in a new law. This law specifically and clearly details the rights regarding religious freedom.  Article one presents the intentions of the law. Article two state plainly the guarantee to the rights of ethical convictions and conscience. Article three nullifies any action by the courts that denies said guarantee of rights. Article four recognizes the secular state and its role in providing religious freedom. Article five maintains the right to believe or not to believe. Article six defines freedom of conscience and worship in both public and private situations. Article seven expands the concept of freedom to believe or not with the freedom to change beliefs. Article eight states the limitation to these rights as being only those things which go against the constitution and applicable international treaties. Article nine disallows limitations in the exercise of these rights. Article ten gives each person specific rights, such as the right to believe, to have no persecution, to express one’s believe anywhere, to preach, to free speech without censoring, to recues oneself due to conscience, to donate or contribute in any way as per personal choice, not to be subject to inquisition, to be informed, to choose one’s children’s education, and to attend religious meetings and rites in public spaces. Article eleven maintains a state guarantee of religious observance. Article twelve details restrictions on public expressions of a religious nature. Article thirteen explains the exceptions to the right of conscience objection. Article fourteen outlines the meaning of a secular state. Article fifteen expresses the guarantee of fundamental rights. In conclusion, he stated the need to address the current laws to eliminate any absurdities, to enact reform to article 130, to define ethical convictions, and to better design the secular state. 

Vicente Segú Marcos spoke on issues concerning the work of his foundation, which advocates family values and religious freedom in Mexico. In particular he discussed current  pro-life and abortion issues. He noted that Mexico called an assembly of all the local commissions to discuss abortion and conditions given to initiatives about the issue. His foundation protects the dignity of death as well as the concept of marriage among other things. The conducted a study and found that although conditions may have been applied to abortion cases, they found that it was impossible to stop abortions due to not adhering to conditions except through a law suit. Even then, they have encountered courts who decide against preventing abortions, disregarding the conditions laid out by the assembly. Mr. Marcos stated that his presentation was not a Prolife presentation but a respect to law and decisions made.  He continued on to note that there is a fight against freedom of religion that needs to be recognized and people must be made aware of what is occurring. He concluded by advocating the importance of freedom of religion to all people.

Jorge Lee Galindo, proposed that in today’s world rights must operated between the public and the private. He reiterated that secularism is essential to freedoms as it establishes basic human rights. he declared that the democratic state must guarantee these essential rights and also maintained that it is impossible not to include the beliefs and thoughts of individuals in secularism as individuals play an integral part in the creation of a secular state. in our modern world of social media and immediate access to multitudes of information, everything is visible. misunderstandings, violence, intolerance is portrayed in ways that may not be accurate. When we don’t understand the situations or issues we must revert to adherence to established laws. The duty of the Rule of Law is to legislate for all regardless of beliefs. Mr. Galindo went on to advocate absolute respect for all cultures and idiosyncrasies, particularly stating that all religions form a part of the community and not one can claim sovereignty over the community, churches instead of church. He declared that the fight between liberals and conservatives seems dogmatic and just damages what a citizen can expect as inherent freedoms. Both political Leaders and religious leaders must respect the individuals’ beliefs and human rights. He concluded that this is how things must be done.