Will Greater Freedom of Conscience Be Allowed in Mexico?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN MEXICO
RELIGIOUS freedom in Mexico is guaranteed by law. Nevertheless, the law still contains some restrictions on freedom of worship. For example, the concept of conscientious objection to military service is relatively unknown in this country. That is why the Institute of Legal Investigations, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), decided to hold an international symposium entitled “Conscientious Objection in Mexico and the World.” UNAM’s Institute of Legal Investigations is accountable to the government, but its purpose is to investigate the established laws and their application. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico were invited to send a representative to give a talk on the subject “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Conscientious Objection.”
Professors Speak Out
The presentation “Conscientious Objection in International Law,” made by Dr. Javier Martínez Torrón, professor at the Granada University of Law, in Spain, pointed out that freedom of conscience and the right to object to the application of some laws or obligations because of conscience is already internationally recognized. He mentioned the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain and the Kokkinakis case in Greece.*
Dr. José Luis Soberanes Fernández, a professor at UNAM’s Institute of Legal Investigations, spoke on the topic “Mexican Experience on the Subject.” “We must point out that the Mexican Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship practically forbids conscientious objection,” he said, referring to the First Article, which states: “In no case do religious convictions exempt anyone from complying with the laws of this country. No one will be able to invoke religious reasons in order to avoid the responsibilities and duties prescribed by the laws.” In conclusion, Dr. Soberanes said: “We believe that it is urgent to legislate on the matter of conscientious objection in Mexico.”
He referred to the fact that each year hundreds of Witness children in Mexico confront problems related to their education because of their Bible-based refusal to salute the flag. Some Witness children are not allowed even to register for school. However, by means of appeals through the Human Rights Commission, many of them have been given back their right to an education. Some education officials have taken steps to prevent children from being expelled from school, but some teachers ignore such efforts. The authorities have been tolerant toward the Witnesses’ position, but there has not been a standard that schools in Mexico can follow.
The symposium also covered conscientious objections presented by other religions, such as being forced to work on days considered holy, being required to dress at work in a way that violates their religious beliefs, and so on. Objections to military service and to certain medical treatments were also covered.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Caesar
A member of the staff of the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico presented a summary of their basic beliefs. He explained their adherence to such Bible principles as the one expressed at Luke 20:25, which tells Christians to “pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar.” He also referred to Romans 13:1, which says that Christians must respect secular authorities. He stressed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are normal, law-abiding citizens who strive to pay their taxes, live orderly lives, keep their homes clean, and send their children to school.
He then highlighted a Scriptural basis for the Witnesses’ refusal to salute the flag, which can be found in the Ten Commandments, at Exodus 20:3-5: “You must not have any other gods against my face. You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses worship God alone, and in no case do they worship an image. However, they will never commit any disrespectful act against a national emblem or speak disrespectfully of it.
In order to stress Jehovah’s Witnesses’ point of view on this question, the video Purple Triangles was presented. This video shows the firm position Jehovah’s Witnesses took in Nazi Germany (1933-45). It presents the story of the Kusserows, a family that stood firm in their beliefs during the Nazi regime.*
The Scriptural basis for Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to accept blood transfusions was then given. (Genesis 9:3, 4; Acts 15:28, 29) The arrangement for Hospital Liaison Committees worldwide was explained. In addition, the accomplishments of cooperative doctors in performing bloodless surgery on Jehovah’s Witnesses were highlighted.
Each day some 100 people attended the symposium, many of whom were lawyers. Representatives of the Office of Religious Affairs in Mexico were also in attendance. All those present were able to listen to the viewpoint of experts regarding respect for conscientious objections. This concept is new to legislators in Mexico, although it is widely accepted in many democratic countries, such as France, Portugal, Spain, and the United States as well as in some former Communist countries, such as Czechia and Slovakia.
See the articles “European High Court Upholds Right to Preach in Greece” and “Legally Protecting the Good News,” in the September 1, 1993, and December 1, 1998, issues of The Watchtower.
[Picture on page 21]
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico treasure their freedom to preach