9-15-06 - Mexico: Government Leader Says Religious Liberty Thriving
September 15, 2006 Silver Spring, Maryland, United States .... [Mark A. Kellner/ANN]
Fourteen years after the nation allowed open registration for various religious communities, Mexico's freedom of religion is strong and growing, a national official told leaders at the Seventh-day Adventist world church headquarters September 13.
"To profess or exercise a religion is to establish an essential element in the life of all individuals, but as social individuals, with [separate] identities and coexisting in a community," said Dr. Álvaro Castro Estrada, general director of religious associations for the Mexican Interior Ministry, during remarks at a luncheon at the world church headquarters.
Before his remarks, Castro Estrada met with Pastor Jan Paulsen, Adventist world church president, and other church leaders. The world church's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department hosted his visit. At the luncheon, Adventist officials present included general vice presidents Pastor Armando Miranda, from Mexico, as well as Pastors Ted N.C. Wilson and Mark Finley and world church treasurer Robert E. Lemon. Agustin Galicia, a Mexican Seventh-day Adventist pastor who is an associate secretary of the world church, and Pastor Jose Vicente Rojas of the North American church region, whose parents were from Mexico, were also in attendance.
"In Mexico, there is a place for the plurality of religious, ideological and philosophical manifestations, where the reality of religious inhabitants coexists with the civic values of a lay state," Castro Estrada said. "Mexico is a country where we are very respectful to each other, from a variety of beliefs of our own," he said.
He noted that one proof of religious diversity is the fact that approximately 6,586 religious associations have been registered in Mexico since laws governing such groups were opened up in 1992, under then-president Carlos Salinas de Gotari.
Of the current administration, Castro Estrada said president Vicente Fox has initiated positive relations between the state and Mexico's many religious groups. In response to a later question, he indicated that President-elect Felipe Calderon, who takes office December 1, is expected to "continue the same attitude as President Fox. He has the same way of thinking."
For Mexico, a country that Castro Estrada said is 88 percent Roman Catholic, the need for religious pluralism extends to television programming: "We need TV programs with values," he said. The country does not wish to broadcast regular church services, he added, "but other programs are welcome."
Castro Estrada also said that the government is working on a religious freedom reform package that will safeguard the rights of conscience for those objecting to military service, and those who cannot work or take school exams on the Sabbath, or Saturday. They are seeking comment from various church groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mexico, and will either introduce the bill later this year or during the new administration.
The Mexican official said the country was also dedicated to free exercise of religion: "One of the manifestations of religious liberty is to be able to change your faith," Castro Estrada said.
Visiting along with Carlos Estrada was attorney Luis Enrique Perez, also of the Interior Ministry, and Seventh-day Adventist Pastor José Masaru Hayasaka Kuwazoi, public affairs and religious liberty director for the church in Mexico.
More than 600,000 Seventh-day Adventist church members worship weekly in 3,000 congregations in Mexico.
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