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. Congress may not enact laws establishing or prohibiting any religion. The constitution defines the country as secular and provides for the separation of religion and state. It prohibits any form of discrimination, including on the basis of religion.
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; 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 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.
To operate, religious groups are not required to register with the government. Registration is required with the DGAR, 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. Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place or places of worship. Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind.
The federal government coordinates religious affairs through SEGOB. Within SEGOB, the 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 nondiscrimination and equal opportunity rights, including for minority religious groups. If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, the DGAR is mandated to mediate a solution. If mediation fails, the parties may submit the issue to the DGAR for binding arbitration or seek judicial redress. Each of the 32 states has offices with responsibility over religious affairs.
As of October 27, there were 8,908 religious associations registered by the DGAR. These included 8,869 Christian (an increase of 171 from 2016), 13 Buddhist, 10 Jewish, two Hindu, three Islamic, and two International Society for Krishna Consciousness groups. Bahais and Ahmadi Muslims were not officially registered.
The constitution states acts of public worship are to be performed inside places of worship. 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 declares that prisoners “shall enjoy all the rights provided by the constitution and international treaties to which the state is party, provided that these have not been restricted by resolution or judgement, or their exercise is incompatible with the object of these.” Prisoners are legally guaranteed dignified and equal treatment from prison staff without distinction based on religious preferences.
Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or to convert existing buildings into houses of worship. Any religious building constructed after January 27, 1992 is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to the relevant taxes. All religious buildings erected before then are considered part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.
The constitution requires public education be secular and not include religious doctrine. Religious groups are permitted to operate private schools and to teach religion and hold religious ceremonies at their schools. Private schools affiliated with a religious group are open to all students regardless of their religious belief or nonbelief; students in these schools are exempt from participating in religious courses and activities if they are not affiliated with the school’s religious group. Homeschooling is allowed at the secondary level after completion of schooling at an accredited primary school.
A visa category exists for foreign ministers of worship and religious associates to obtain a temporary resident visa or visitor visa without permission to perform paid religious activities.
The law states religious groups may not own nor operate radio or television stations. Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.
According to the constitution, indigenous communities have the right to autonomy and may “decide their internal forms of coexistence” and have separate legal systems to “regulate and solve their internal conflicts.” The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own particular “uses and customs.” These rights sometimes conflict with 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. The country claims the following constitutional limitations to the covenant: a limitation (to Article 18) that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission and a reservation (to Article 25) that religious ministers have neither a passive vote nor the right to form political associations. Professional education for ministers is not officially recognized.
Some evangelical groups said they did not believe the government responded adequately to their reports of abuse and discrimination by other religious groups and community leaders, especially in indigenous communities. These groups said some Protestants in mainly rural and/or indigenous areas in Chiapas and Oaxaca were pressured by local indigenous leaders operating under a special constitutionally protected legal structure of “uses and customs” to participate in Catholic cultural religious events, and some stated there was pressure to convert or return to Catholicism. According to evangelical leaders, those who refused faced forcible displacement from their communities, experienced arbitrary detention by local authorities, or had property destroyed by community leaders.
According to some legal experts and NGOs, laws intended to give indigenous communities autonomy to exercise traditional law gave local authorities the ability to harass some members of minority religious groups or force them to follow the majority religion in the area. NGOs and some religious organizations continued to state that a number of rural and indigenous communities expected inhabitants, regardless of their faith, to participate in and fund community religious gatherings, and in some cases adhere to the majority religion. There were continued reports that persons adhering to the minority religious group or coming from outside the community to proselytize faced discrimination from 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.
The DGAR sometimes worked with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. At year’s end the DGAR investigated three cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared with six in 2016. All of the cases investigated by the DGAR took place in the state of Chiapas. According to the 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. Some groups said officials rarely pursued legal remedies against offending local leaders and were often unaware of the applicable laws, preferring instead to reach informal mediated solutions. The groups continued to state there were few investigations and prosecutions of crimes or abuses motivated by a victim’s belief or practice, stating this was partially a result of the lack of resources devoted to federal and state agencies and organizations working on religious freedom.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), seven Protestant families in the Yaltzi community, Tres Lagunas village, Comitan municipality in the state of Chiapas, were forcibly displaced by village leaders in August due to the former’s beliefs. The group consisted of 30 individuals and included children. The families stated they came under pressure to contribute to a Catholic festival and help cover the travel expenses of a visiting Catholic priest who held Mass in the community. When they refused, village authorities cut off their access to water and electricity on August 14. To increase pressure, a group of villagers led by the mayor reportedly ordered the detention of the Protestants in the village jail over a weekend. CSW noted that local village leaders bound the Protestants, threatened to kill them, and denied them food and water. They placed other Protestants under house arrest. After being holding the seven families in jail or under house arrest on August 20-21, village leaders forcibly expelled them from their properties and from the Yaltzi community. CSW reported the state government took no action to resolve the case. The federal Office for Population, Migration, and Religious Affairs sent a letter to the state government requesting information regarding the state government’s actions to protect the seven families, who were not allowed to return to their homes.
According to Jalisco state officials, the Jalisco State Commission of Human Rights confirmed 75 members of religious minorities were expelled from the Tuxpan de Bolanos community on December 4. In news reports, Wixarica (aka Huichol) village leaders said they expelled Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptist residents, who were also of the Wixarica indigenous group, for refusing to participate in some community activities for religious reasons. The secretary of the Jalisco state government said the government would guarantee assistance to the expelled members of the community. Jalisco’s Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the state government had installed working groups to reconcile the right to follow traditions and customs of the indigenous groups with the right to religious freedom.
According to the DGAR, the federal government continued to promote dialogue with religious actors with the stated goal of ensuring the exercise of religious freedom and resolving conflicts arising from religious intolerance. According to CONAPRED the majority of religious discrimination complaints it received were related to religious attire of Muslims, anti-Muslim comments, and the refusal of some hospitals to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses due to the latter’s refusal to allow blood transfusions. CONAPRED said it assisted in conflict mediation related to these complaints.
Jewish community leaders said that while anti-Semitic attitudes remained a concern, the government took the issue seriously and collaborated closely with the country’s Jewish leadership to address hate speech and discrimination incidents.