Mexico: New constitutional reform could allow for religious education in public schools
On Wednesday, Mexico’s senate approved a constitutional reform that could pave the way for religious education in public schools. During the controversial debate, the Senate was closed off to the public, because legislators feared protesters would interrupt the proceedings. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Mexico’s Senate approved a constitutional reform on Wednesday that could pave the way for religious education in the country’s public schools, and ease restrictions that currently ban faith groups from owning media outlets, or participating in politics.
The reform, which comes on the heels of Pope Benedicts XVI’s visit to the country, is widely seen as a victory for the Catholic Church in Mexico, where the state has historically placed strict limits on the Church’s role in education and politics.
With presidential elections coming up in July, it also puts PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto at odds with liberals who were likely to support him, but could now be concerned that Mexico is losing its secular traditions, and, according to analysts, would switch to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“The Masons in the PRI are leaving to (the leftist party) PRD,” politics and religion researcher Elio Masferrer told Univision News. “Liberals are furious about this constitutional change,” added Masferrer, who teaches at Mexico’s National Anthropology Institute.
The reform of article 24 of Mexico’s constitution, was approved mostly by senators from President Felipe Calderón’s conservative PAN party in alliance with Senators from Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI. It was rejected by legislators from the leftist PRD.
So what changes were made?
Article 24 of Mexico’s constitution used to grant everyone in the country the right to pick and exercise the religion of their choice.
But with Wednesday’s changes, it now also grants people the right to “uphold their ethical convictions, freedom of conscience and religion.”
Senators also went after Article 40 of Mexico’s constitution, changing it so that it described Mexico as a “secular nation,” a demonstration according to politicians from the PRI and the PAN that their parties respect the separation of Church and State in Mexico.
But shortly after the more controversial article 24 was voted on, PAN Senators said that these constitutional changes could legalize religious education in public schools.
“This reform (of article 24) is (designed) so that, as parents, we have the right to determine if our children will have a religious education — that is what it is all about,” said Senator Santiago Creel, who recently lost his party’s presidential nomination to Josefina Vazquez Mota.
“We must also work so that churches have open access to mass media, because this is a theme that has been largely ignored,” Senator Blanca Judith Diaz said in a press conference that followed the controversial vote.
The separation of Church and State in Mexico is far more strict than anything found in the United States.
Foreign churches are not allowed to open in Mexico without the government’s approval and local priests or ministers are not allowed to talk publicly about politics.
Under the seven decades of PRI rule in Mexico, priests and other religious officials were not allowed to vote until after 1992, and the country did not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican until that same year.
In contrast to the United States, where evangelical groups have a huge presence on TV, Church groups in Mexico are still banned from owning TV channels.
But with the PAN, a party founded by conservative Catholics in power for the past twelve years, the Catholic Church has slowly gained more influence in Mexican politics. It lobbied for Wednesday’s reform of article 24 and was successful in getting it passed.
The Church however has denied that it is seeking more power. Church spokesmen have also at times denied that they want religious education in public schools, saying instead that they are only asking for religious freedoms that are granted by democracies elsewhere.