The president of the Mexican bishops' conference expressed his support for a bill that would grant more freedom to the Church in the country, loosening long-established restrictions on religious groups.

“I like the proposal a lot because it is framed in terms of human rights,” said Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López of Monterrey at a Dec. 22 press conference.

He stressed that “citizens have the right to believe or not believe, the right to belong or not belong to a church or religion. This is the point of departure and it's very important.”

The bill reforming the 1992 Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship was introduced last month by Senator María Soledad Luévano Cantú and is now being studied by Senate committees.

The AP reported Dec. 18 that “among specific measures, it would reportedly allow religious groups greater access to all manner of media, including TV, radio and newspapers, relax regulations on church ownership of property, provide for cooperation between church and state on cultural and social development and allow ‘conscientious objections’ to law on religious grounds.”

It would also let church authorities offer spiritual services in government facilities including hospitals, rehabilitation centers and military institutions.

The separation of church and state in Mexico traces back to the mid 1800s when a series of reforms were instituted, particularly under the presidency of Benito Juarez. Church properties not used for worship and instruction, such as cemeteries, were nationalized. Birth and marriage records were placed under civil authority.

Tensions heightened at the beginning of the 20th century with the enactment of the 1917 Constitution and the “Calles Laws” instituted by then President Plutarco Elías Calles, which banned religious congregations and imposed restrictions on priests and public worship.

The Calles Laws sparked the Cristero rebellion for religious freedom in the late 1920s, leaving tens of thousands of government and rebel fighters dead. Although the war ended in 1929, religious persecution continued for a number of years afterwards.

It was not until the constitutional reforms of 1992 and the enactment of the Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship that same year that the Catholic Church was able to become a juridical person and monastic orders were no longer prohibited.

Catholic churches built before 1992 are still considered federal property and the Church cannot have radio or TV stations.

According to Archbishop Cabrera López, amending the religious associations law would give “freedom to citizens but it also gives the state freedom to be autonomous, to be independent against any reading of the law that would make a break with the secularity of the state.”

“I believe there is no law as secular as this one that has been introduced because nowhere do there appear privileges and cronyism between government officials and pastors.”

Luévano Cantú, who introduced the proposal, is a member of President López Obrador's Morena political party. However, President Lopez Obrador recently came out against the proposed reform. At a Dec. 18 press conference he stated that “that issue should not be broached.”

“I consider that this has already been resolved for more than a century and a half, I believe this was resolved, the separation of the Church and the State. To God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's,” he said.

López Obrador said the majority of Mexicans “agree that the secular state should prevail, which the Constitution establishes. And the secular state, it also has to be said, means guaranteeing religious freedom.”

“We shouldn't sponsor anything that means confrontation,” the president said.

However, Archbishop Cabrera López argued that the reform bill does not harm the secular state.

“No priest, no bishop can claim to have power in the country,” he said, and stressed that the bill “is very good; although it does not expressly say that the separation of Church and State must be maintained, it is sufficiently clear that there can no longer be privileges, and of course it would be antiquated to imagine a government married with some religion.”