The constitution states all persons are free to profess their chosen religious beliefs and to engage in ceremonies and acts of worship that do not constitute a crime or offense punishable by law. The congress may not enact laws that establish or prohibit any religion. The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and defines the country as secular. It prohibits any form of discrimination, including on the basis of religion.
The constitution states acts of public worship are performed inside places of worship and any performed outside of places of worship are subject to the applicable regulations and laws. Active clergy are forbidden from holding public office, advocating partisan political views, supporting political candidates, or publicly opposing the laws or institutions of the state.
The law states religious groups may not own or administer radio or television stations. Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.
Religious groups are not required to register with the government in order to operate. Registration is required, however, to negotiate contracts, purchase or rent land, apply for official building permits, receive tax exemptions, or hold religious meetings outside customary places of worship. To establish a religious association, applicants must certify that the church or religious group observes, practices, propagates, or instructs a religious doctrine or body of religious beliefs; has conducted religious activities in the country for at least five years, thus becoming deeply rooted within the population; has established domicile in the country; and shows sufficient assets to achieve its purpose. Registered associations may freely organize their internal structures and adopt bylaws or rules pertaining to their governance and operations, including the training and appointment of their clergy. They may engage in religious public worship and celebrate acts for the fulfillment of the association’s purpose, lawfully and without profit. They may propagate their doctrine within applicable regulations and participate in the creation, management, maintenance, and operation of private welfare, educational, and health institutions, provided the institutions are not for profit.
Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place of worship. Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind.
Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or to convert existing buildings into houses of worship. Any religious building constructed after 1992 is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to the relevant taxes. All religious buildings erected before 1992 are classified as part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.
The constitution states public education must be secular and maintained entirely apart from any religious doctrine, but religious groups are permitted to operate private schools. To enter a secondary school, a student must have attended an accredited primary school. Homeschooling is allowed at the secondary level after completion of schooling at an accredited primary school.
The federal government coordinates religious affairs through the Interior Ministry (SEGOB). Within SEGOB, the General Directorate for Religious Associations (DGAR) promotes religious tolerance, conducts conflict mediation, and investigates cases of religious intolerance. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) is an autonomous federal agency responsible for ensuring the rights of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, including for minority religious groups. If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, the DGAR is charged with mediating a solution. If mediation fails, the parties may submit the issue to the DGAR for binding arbitration. If the parties do not agree to this procedure, one or the other may seek judicial redress.
Each of the 32 states has administrative offices with responsibility over religious affairs. The states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Yucatan, and Oaxaca have undersecretaries at the local interior ministries for religious affairs.
There are 8,737 religious associations registered by the DGAR. These include 8,698 Christian (an increase of 423 from 2015), 13 Buddhist, 10 Jewish, two Hindu, three Islamic, and two International Society for Krishna Consciousness groups.
According to the constitution, indigenous communities have the right to autonomy and may “decide their internal forms of coexistence” and have legal systems to “regulate and solve their internal conflicts.” These rights are subject to the general principles and fundamental rights provided by the constitution, including freedom of religion.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The country claims the following constitutional limitations to the ICCPR: a reservation (to Article 25) that religious ministers have neither a passive vote nor the right to form political associations; and a limitation (to Article 18) that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission, and professional education for ministers is not officially recognized.
Some evangelical groups reported incidents of religious abuses and discrimination and said the government either did not respond or did not respond adequately. They said some Protestants in mainly rural and/or indigenous areas in Chiapas and Oaxaca were pressured to convert to Catholicism, were displaced, were arbitrarily detained by local authorities, or had their property destroyed by community leaders.
According to some legal experts and NGOs, the ambiguity of the relationship between the rights laid out in the constitution and the law allowing indigenous communities autonomy to exercise traditional law gave local authorities the ability to punish some members of minority religious groups or force them to follow the majority religion. NGOs and some religious organizations reported that a number of rural and indigenous communities expected inhabitants to adhere to the majority religion, including paying for and participating in community and religious gatherings. There were reports of those adhering to the minority religious group or those coming in from outside the community to proselytize being discriminated against by others within the community. Some members of minority religious groups in indigenous communities stated local authorities denied them public benefits and utilities service due to their religious affiliation.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that in May, 86 families from three churches in Mitziton and San Cristobal de las Casas (state of Chiapas) were forcibly displaced from their communities after they refused to make financial contributions to a Catholic festival.
Luis Herrera, director of the NGO Coordination of Christian Organizations of Chiapas (COOC), reported that seven Protestants were forcibly displaced in January by non-Protestant residents from their community in Las Margaritas, Chiapas. The NGO Impulso 18 said these individuals were asked to present themselves during a village assembly on December 15, 2015 and sign a document confirming they had renounced their faith. Herrera said the individuals were imprisoned for two days and ordered to pay a fine for refusing to renounce their faith. Municipal, state, and federal officials were reportedly notified, but an investigation had not yet been opened as of the end of the year. According to Herrera, no agreement for their return was reached by year’s end.
According to the NGO Libertad y Dignidad (Liberty and Dignity), local authorities arbitrarily detained evangelical Christians Lauro Perez Nunez and Misael Perez for their religious beliefs on March 28 in La Chacalaca municipality in Oaxaca. The detention followed what they said was their expulsion from their community, with 10 other families, for refusing to renounce their beliefs. They were held for several hours without charge before being released.
Libertad y Dignidad reported 40 families were expelled by residents from the municipalities of Huixtan, La Trinitaria, Comitan, and Ococigo in Chiapas between January and June because they had converted to Protestantism.
According to Impulso 18, on January 26 local authorities forcibly displaced 50 individuals from 20 Protestant families from their homes in Tuxpan de Bolaos, Jalisco, after the families neither participated in nor contributed to the town’s Catholic holiday festivities. The individuals were given three hours to leave the village after a community assembly voted to have them removed and threatened to lynch them if they did not obey the order to leave. Impulso 18 stated the group was dropped off in nearby mountains and that state authorities, although contacted, did not intervene.
According to Libertad y Dignidad, evangelical Christians were required in some communities to pay for Catholic religious festivities even if they did not celebrate. The NGO reported eight evangelical Christian families in Ixcaquixtla, Puebla were evicted from their homes for declining to contribute 2,000 pesos ($97) to the town’s Catholic celebrations. Local indigenous authorities briefly detained three evangelical Christians for refusing to pay.
According to COOC, there was no progress on the return of 15 acres of land seized in 2015 from 30 Protestant families in Mariano Matamoros, Chiapas. In April local authorities said an agreement to return their land would be signed soon, but there was no agreement at year’s end.
CSW reported on February 23 that 27 Protestant families in Union Juarez, Chiapas had their access to water and electricity restored by local authorities. Access had been cut off since 2014 when the families refused to contribute money to or participate in Catholic festivals.
On February 5, the Hidalgo state Public Ministry oversaw an agreement with Chichiltepec village officials that allowed two Protestant men to return to their homes after they were displaced in March 2015 for refusing to renounce their faith.
On April 23, the municipal authority in Santa Catarina Yosonotu, Oaxaca prohibited the public ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the municipality. DGAR was investigating as of the end of the year.
In some cases, DGAR worked closely with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. As of the end of the year, DGAR investigated six cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared to 10 in 2015. According to DGAR, most incidents of religious discrimination were under the jurisdiction of the state government rather than the federal government. Municipal and state officials commonly mediated disputes among religious groups; however, evangelical groups reported that officials rarely pursued legal remedies against offending local leaders and were often unaware of the applicable laws. The groups stated there were few investigations and prosecutions related to crimes or abuses motivated by an individual’s belief or practice, stating that this was partially a result of the lack of resources devoted to federal and state agencies and organizations working on religious freedom.
On February 15, CSW reported that unknown assailants attacked the Fuente de Fe, Alabanza y Poder church in Zinacantan city, Chiapas. CSW indicated that the assailants broke into the church and burned the pulpit, curtains, chairs, and tables. Church officials said the attack was religiously motivated. DGAR stated it was an isolated incident perpetrated by common criminals and not motivated by religion.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, after townspeople of Tamazulapam, Oaxaca opposed the construction of a Kingdom Hall for worship in May, the municipal authority issued an order to stop construction. The Directorate of Religious Affairs of Oaxaca spoke with the opponents and the municipal authorities without success. The Jehovah’s Witnesses stated they were considering submitting a claim for legal protection.
In May the municipal authority of San Jorge Nuchita, Huajuapan, Oaxaca prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from proselytizing house to house. An investigation by the Directorate of Religious Affairs of Oaxaca was ongoing at the end of the year.
The federal government promoted dialogue with religious actors with the stated goal of ensuring the exercise of religious freedom and resolving conflicts arising from religious intolerance. CONAPRED conducted outreach efforts, facilitated training, and distributed publications designed to combat discrimination. According to CONAPRED, the majority of religious discrimination complaints it received were related to religious attire or to some hospitals declining to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses for their refusal to engage in blood transfusions. In some cases, CONAPRED assisted in conflict mediation related to these complaints.