Last Updated 25 October 2021

Mexico, a federal republic with a population of 126 million inhabitants, is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. According to the 2020 census, approximately 78% of the population identify as Roman Catholic, a further 11% as Protestant or Evangelical Christian, and 0.2% as belonging to other religions, including Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Islam. At least 8% of the population are non-religious, including those who are atheist or agnostic; this statistic represents the third largest group of the population.1 This figure has grown from 5% in 2010.2

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Mexican Constitution3;
and other laws and policies guarantee freedom of religion or belief. A constitutional amendment that came into effect in July 2013 specifically prohibits the use of acts of worship for political purposes. The amendment permits religious services to be conducted in “public as well as private” places, as well as adding “freedom of ethical convictions” to the constitution, designed to ensure the freedom to have no particular religious

The Mexican government is secular (Article 40) and the Constitution stipulates that all individuals are free to proclaim their chosen religious identity and to engage in religious worship and ceremonies under the strict supervision of the State (Article 24). The Constitution also proscribes any type of discrimination, including on the basis of religious identity.

The Mexican congress may not enact laws that establish or prohibit any particular religion (Article 130 of the Constitution).

The Constitution prohibits members of the clergy from holding public office (Article 55), supporting partisan political views and backing political candidates, or openly opposing the institutions or laws of the state (Article 130). Religious institutions are not afforded “personality” nor are they allowed to own property.

According to research conducted by the London School of Economics and Social Sciences (LSE), “[i]n Mexico, there is a powerful discourse about the secular nature of the state, and it is politically unacceptable to promote a religious rationale for policy decisions. Even religious conservatives couch their political discourse in secular terms.”5

Despite bans on political activity, religious leaders have historically been involved in civil and political activism, as a result of which they have been subjects of the high level of violence prevalent throughout the country.6

The government runs an interfaith-dialogue called Religions for Inclusion, which counts among its members representatives of the country’s Protestant, evangelical Christian, Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ, LLDM, Old Catholic Church (Veterocatolica), Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Church of Scientology communities, but does not include atheist, humanist or otherwise non-religious members, according to the available information.7;;

Registering religions

The Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship (Ley de Asociaciones Religiosas y Culto Público)8 (in Spanish); (in English)
further outlines the rights and duties of the State and its citizens when it comes to freedom of religion or belief.

The law allows religious groups to operate without registering with the government, except in order to negotiate contracts and to acquire or rent land. Registration is required in order to apply for official building permits, to be in receipt of tax exemptions and to hold religious meetings outside their typical places of worship. In order to procure legal status, a religious group is obliged to register as a religious association. In order to register, a group must outline its fundamental precepts and religious beliefs, not be a for-profit organization and to pledge that it will not promote acts that are considered physically harmful or dangerous to its constituents. Religious associations in Mexico must notify the government of their intentions to organize a religious meeting outside of an officially licensed place of worship. Religious associations are not allowed to hold any political meetings.9

Education and children’s rights

Article 3 of the Constitution demands that public education must be secular. Religious groups are allowed to operate private schools, however they are required by law to uphold the secular nature of education, “based on the results of scientific progress, shall strive against ignorance and its effects, servitudes, fanaticism, and prejudices.”

Private schools affiliated with a religious group are open to all students regardless of their religious beliefs, and students not affiliated with the school’s religious group are exempt from participating in the school’s religious education or worship.10 There are reports that indicate that in certain states, individuals who opt-out of such activities may face discrimination and ostracism.11

Family, community and society

Tension between communities

An estimated 15% of the population belong to one of the 68 recognized indigenous indigenous of Mexico.12

According to the US State Department:13

“The Constitution recognizes the right of indigenous communities to autonomy and codifies their right to use their own legal systems for the resolution of conflicts within their communities, while respecting human rights as defined in the constitution and the international treaties to which the country is a signatory. The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own “uses and customs.” This right of self-governance for indigenous communities sometimes conflicts with other rights provided by the constitution, including freedom of religion, for members of those communities.”

The State Department notes that state actors are often complicit in such actions. Indigenous communities are reported to have targeted or expelled evangelical Protestant families for not following Catholicism.14;

Particularly in rural and indigenous communities, residents are reportedly expected, regardless of their faith, to participate in and fund traditional community religious gatherings and in some cases, to adhere to the majority religion (Catholicism).15;
According to a communication made by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, expression, minorities and forced displacement, individuals belonging to religious minorities in the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero and Puebla are reported to face pressure to participate actively in Catholic rites, including providing financial assistance to the Church, or face exclusion, forced displacement, fines, denial of public services, including health services and access to running water or electricity.16

In 2019, the government developed its ‘National Strategy for the Promotion of Respect and Tolerance of Religious Diversity: Let’s Create Peace,’17 in acknowledgement of the fact that:

“Religion has been and continues to be a fundamental part of our social structure. The great diversification of which we see in our country today crosscuts elements of our relationships and demonstrates the need to work to erradicate atitudes that lead to discrimination, intolerance and conflict.

The differences – be they cultural, ethnic, of thought, of belief or in any of their forms – have often been seen more as a threat than as a source of richness, generating conflict and exclusion. The creation of a culture of peace requires a greater understanding of different expressions and forms of thinking, including those that arise within or between religions.”

The document takes pains to ensure a broad interpretation of the right to “religious freedom” – as it articulates it – which includes the right not to believe, however, the purpose of the document appears to be to address specific tensions arising between strictly religious groups.

LGBTI+ rights

Mexico has a strong record in the legal recognition of the rights of the LGBTI+ community; the country has included sexual orientation among protected characteristics in its non-discrimination legislation since 2003, at least 23 of Mexico’s 32 states recognize gay marriage, and the nation’s supreme court has ruled that trans people have a legal right to change their gender identity on official documents.18;;;

However, their rights are not always upheld in practice.19;
The year 2019 was reportedly the deadliest year for the country’s LGBTI+ community in five years, with the largest increase in murders among the trans community.20 Agents of the state are reported to use violence unauthorized by law, while state actors are known to have used violence against sexual minorities, often with impunity.21

LGBTI+ people from Indigenous communities face double discrimination, and are often forced to internally relocate as a result of harassment from their community for revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity.22

In July 2020, Mexico City became the first state to ban “conversion therapy”, making it punishable by up to five years in prison.23 Five states have now banned conversion therapies (commonly referred to as Esfuerzos para Corregir la Orientación Sexual y la Identidad de Género (ECOSIG)), they are: Baja California, Mexico City, Yucatán, Colima, and Mexico State.24

Mexico’s federal legislators are considering a nationwide ban, however this has yet to be passed.25 The practice is reported to be widespread, with human rights groups and media outlets recount stories of members of the LGBTI+ community being abducted, subjected to rape, electroschock among other tools.26;;
Religious groups and the high level of religiosity in society have been implicated in the conduct of conversion therapy in Mexico.27


In a landmark ruling in September 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down the state of Coahuila’s abortion law paving the way for decriminalization across the country.28 Mexico’s Catholic Church reportedly condemned the ruling.

According to the Guardian the ruling, “also turns back a spate of state-level attempts over the past dozen years to restrict abortion through constitutional amendments.” Since the late 2000s, more than half of Mexican states have made amendments to their Constitutions determining that life begins at conception. In the state of Veracruz, abortion is banned under all circumstances.29

Religious leaders are also reported to have previously lobbied state governors to approve prohibitions on abortion.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Attacks on journalists and human rights defenders

According to Human Rights Watch,30

“Journalists and human rights defenders—particularly those who criticize public officials or expose the work of criminal cartels—often face attacks, harassment, and surveillance by government authorities and criminal groups.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 60 journalists have been killed since 1992, when the organization began its count.31 A climate of impunity for their murders prevails. The Mexican government is known to have used controversial spyware Pegasus against critical journalists.32;
At least 20 human rights defenders are thought to have been killed as a result of their work in 2020; at particular risk are environmental and/or indigenous rights defenders.33

In 2012, the federal government established the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo de Protección para Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas),34 which provides bodyguards, armored cars, and panic buttons, and helps journalists temporarily relocate in response to serious threats. However, the mechanism is severely under-resourced.

Religious groups are prevented from administering radio or television stations. Government approval is required for commercial broadcasting of radio or television before disseminating religious programming.35

Freedom of assembly

According to Amnesty International,36

“During 2020, there were mass protests by women in several cities against femicide and other forms of gender-based violence. The police responded in several instances with excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, cell phone theft and physical, psychological and sexual attacks, among other human rights violations. Federal and state authorities also stigmatized women protesters in public statements.”

The use of excessive force to quell protests is part of a wider pattern in the country according to human rights monitoring groups.37


2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 35
5, 21
8 (in Spanish); (in English)
11, 16
33, 36

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