In the United States, when clergy urge their congregations to vote for or against a particular law or candidate, the federal government typically has this concern: Have the clergy as leaders of tax-exempt religious groups overstepped the legal bounds that qualify them and their churches for tax exempt status? If so, that exemption can be revoked. In Mexico, however, where the Catholic bishops have been speaking out against legal abortion and gay marriage, the Mexican government has taken a different, more destructive tack. The government sees the bishops' expressed political views as a violation against Mexico’s secular state.
But is that accurate? Or is the real issue the Mexican government’s attempt to limit the bishops’ civil right of free speech?
In his article on Time.com, Tim Padgett, a reporter with long experience in the region, takes the position that the Mexican government’s response diminishes the country’s democracy. And he sides with the bishops. Writes Padgett: “It's one thing to separate church and state – to prevent governments from endorsing one faith over others, for example, or to strip a church of its charitable tax-exempt status if it turns its pulpit into a political action committee. But it's another thing to violate civil rights. By continuing to enforce the Religious Associations Law, Mexico's politicians risk looking like censors who use the same muzzling practices they claimed to abhor when the PRI was in power.”
In a democracy where the charitable tax exemption is not offered, the bishops, like all other citizens, have a civil right to express their case in public. That might well influence the secular state, which is what the government fears. But, if Padget is right, it will certainly make the democratic state stronger.
Karen Sue Smith