Culture & Sport

Mexico Supreme Court to decide on prohibiting Christian nativity scene in a public building

The Supreme Court of Mexico may decide on forbidding displays of a Christian nativity scene in a public building. The Church, fearing it would give make a precedent in the country, urges not to ban the manifestation of religious symbols in public space.

Nativity scene
Nativity scene | Illustration, © Walter Chávez

Displaying a Christian nativity scene in the City Hall building of Chocholá may soon be forbidden. According to a draft sentence, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation of Mexico will soon decide whether this small municipality of Mexico needs to refrain from installing a nativity scene in the public space.

The case started in December 2020 when a resident of Chocholá, a town of 5,000 in the state of Yucatán, felt offended and discriminated against his freedom of religion.

Local authorities of Chocholá had installed a nativity scene in the City Hall building for Christmas using public funds. It also promoted it in videos on the city’s social media profiles.

The man, who was born in Chocholá and who identifies himself as a layman with no religious affiliation, submitted an indirect amparo, a type of lawsuit seeking the protection of a citizen’s constitutional rights against an action of the State.

He argued the municipality was violating his freedom and the constitutional principles of a secular country. He also claimed the City Council manifested a preference for Catholics while no religion or cult should be given particular attention.

Mexicans are overwhelmingly Christians, with a large majority of Catholics, but Church and State have been officially separated since the Constitution of 1857.

The lawsuit was dismissed by a district court of Yucatán because the nativity scene was already removed when the verdict was given as the Christmas season had passed. But the plaintiff brought the case to the Supreme Court, endorsed by Norma Lucía Piña Hernández, one of the magistrates of the Supreme Court who are called ministers in Mexico. The first Chamber found that the amparo was legitimate.

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether the municipality of Chocholá needs to refrain from installing signs alluding to religion in public space and whether Chocholá is prohibited from using public funds for it. The city may also need to repair the damage made by the Christian nativity scene by promoting religious diversity.

Minister Alcántara Carrancá will defend in front of his peers that secularism in Mexico lies in two fundamental elements: Separation between the State and religion, and the protection of the freedom of religion and convictions. As such, the Mexican State has the “general obligation to avoid interfering in the beliefs of individuals,” according to Mr. Alcántara Carrancá.

In the draft sentence, the Supreme Court may rule that authorities of the City Hall, “through the placement of insignias that make express reference to the Christian religion unjustifiably intervened to the detriment of the complainant,[…] transgresses the constitutional principle of a secular State,[…] violates the human right to religious freedom of the plaintiff” and that “the power of the Municipality of Chocholá to install symbols that allude to certain religious conceptions in public spaces violates the principle of equality and non-discrimination to the detriment of the complainant.”

In light of this potential decision, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico, one of the largest in the world, in the Catholic weekly Desde la Fe (From Faith) urged ministers of the Supreme Court to consider positive secularism where the display of religious symbols in the public space are accepted.

The Catholic publication Centro Catolico Multimedial denounces that the meaning of a symbol could violate free will and finds the minister’s opinion “responds to a wave that comes from other latitudes that have imposed ideas that religious symbols are offensive.” It also called this idea an “absurdity” when “other degrading demonstrations of human nature can be exhibited in the streets without major consequences.”

An editorial piece of Desde la Fe, the publication is related to the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico, even argues the ban should also lead to forbidding decoration and lighting in the streets, as they are part of the public sphere, during Christmas, Día de los Muertos or Easter. Yet, the Supreme Court draft sentence notes that decoration of the city is not prohibited, but it is forbidden “when it makes use of symbols that expressly allude to a certain religious conviction or conscience.”

The president of the National Front for the Family, a Catholic civil association that defends “the right of parents to freely educate their children,” in a Facebook video feels that freedom of religion is “under attack”.

But the Church also fears the Supreme Court gives a precedent that would spread across Mexico.

The Supreme Court may indeed make a landmark decision that will have a nationwide impact. The First Chamber may recognize that “the present decision constitutes a precedent whose purpose is to set a guideline for jurisprudence tending to transform structural conditions of inequality in the Mexican State that are incompatible” with the Constitution.

Along with the amparo against Chocholá, two other complaints against municipal authorities in Mocochá, a city of 3,000 people in Yucatán, and Mérida the capital city of Yucatán have also been raised, all supported by the civil group Kanan Derechos Humanos.

The draft sentence is going to be discussed on November 9.

Read more about Mexico

AMPARO EN REVISIÓN 216/2022, Supreme Court of Mexico, October 2022, PDFCentro Catolico Multimedial, October 2022, non-secure access

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