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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Religious Freedom and Undocumented Religious Workers in Mexico 

Did you do what I told you to do?

If you did, then you saw this statement:

I'll be their first full-time pastor, but can't be called pastor because it's against the law.

I asked about this:

What is the legal restriction on being called a pastor?

J. A. Gillmartin responded:

Apparently it is a holdover from the days when the Mexican leaders at the national and state levels were more or less unofficial Catholic appointees.

I'm told there is something in the Mexico Constitution to the effect that only nationals can be clergy.

I am officially a missionary to Norte-Americanos in San Carlos.

I tried to perform a search on this topic, but didn't succeed. Here's what I did find, courtesy of (then) Colin Powell's Crack Team of Whatevers:

There are a number of foreign religious workers present in the country. According to statistics from the Secretariat of Government's Under Secretariat of Religious Affairs, 58,460 individuals entered the country and registered as ministers with the Government between November 1992 and May 15, 2003. Ministers are defined in this context as any person to whom a registered religious organization has conferred the title.

There are currently 6,619 religious associations registered with the Federal Government, of which a vast majority are Protestant evangelical and non-Protestant Christian. Non-Christian groups represent a very small percentage of registered associations. A wide variety of Christian foreign missionary groups operate in the country....

In order to operate legally, religious associations must register with the Under Secretariat of Religious Affairs of the Federal Secretariat of Government (SSAR). Although the Government rejects applications because of incomplete documentation, the registration process is routine. The latest statistics available show an estimated 6,619 religious associations are registered. During the period covered by this report, the SSAR registered 17 associations. In addition, 116 applications either awaited further supporting documentation or were not in compliance with registration criteria at the end of the period covered by this report.

To be registered as a religious association, a group must articulate its fundamental doctrines and religious beliefs, must not be organized primarily to make money, and must not promote acts physically harmful or dangerous to its members. Religious groups must be registered to apply for official building permits, to receive tax exemptions, and to hold religious meetings outside of their places of worship....

The existing situation of religious freedom reflects the historic tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern state. Consequently, severe restrictions on the rights of the Church and members of the clergy were written into the country's present Constitution. In 1992 the Government reestablished diplomatic relations with the Holy See and lifted almost all restrictions on the Catholic Church. This latter action included granting all religious groups legal status, conceding them limited property rights, and lifting restrictions on the number of priests in the country. However, the law continues to mandate a strict separation of church and state....

Religious associations must notify the Government of their intent to hold a religious meeting outside of a licensed place of worship. The Government received 6,009 such notifications during the period from June 2002 to May 2003. In October 2002, a Jehovah's Witnesses gathering drew almost 90,000 followers to the Aztec Stadium in a three-day celebration of their faith. One thousand one hundred followers were baptized into the faith during the celebration.

The Government requires religious groups to apply for a permit to construct new buildings or to convert existing buildings into new churches. The latest statistics available show that the Government granted permits for 726 buildings between June 1, 2001, and May 31, 2002. In the cases of 576 pending applications, the SSAR has requested additional information. The information required ranges from technical data about the building in question, to proof that a building's owner consents to its conversion into a religious facility. Religious groups report no difficulty in obtaining government permission for these activities....

The Constitution bars members of the clergy from holding public office, advocating partisan political views, supporting political candidates, or opposing the laws or institutions of the State. However, on May 25, representatives of the political party Mexico Possible brought a complaint before the Federal Elections Institute (IFE) accusing the Bishop of Cuernavaca (Morelos State) of violating article 130 of the Constitution and article 404 of the Penal Code. Both articles state that religious ministers cannot call for their followers to vote for or against a political party. While the Bishop did not call for voting specifically against Mexico Possible, he did say that it was a sin to vote in favor of candidates who favor homosexuality and a woman's right to choose, platforms that Mexico Possible espouses. Representatives for Mexico Possible are also considering lodging complaints against the Bishops of Queretaro, Tlaxcala, and Acapulco (Guerrero) for similar violations. The Under Secretariat for Religious Affairs is debating whether or not the Bishops violated the Religious Associations law, and a public discussion ensued on whether or not there should be reforms to article 130 of the Constitution. The Bishops are subject to a fine of up to 20,000 minimum salary days (equivalent to approximately 80,000 USD) under the Religious Associations law and a fine of up to 500 minimum salary days (approximately 2,000 USD) under the Federal Penal Code.

To visit the country for religious purposes, foreign religious workers must secure government permission. Though the Federal Government limits the number of visas each religious group is allowed, the application procedure is essentially a routine and fairly uncomplicated process. The Government has granted 41,742 such visas since 1994, including 7,812 between June 1, 2001 and April 30, 2003.

According to the Religious Associations law, religious groups may not own or administer broadcast radio or television stations; however, the Catholic Church owns and operates a national cable television channel. Government permission is required to transmit religious programming on broadcast radio or television, and permission is granted routinely. Between June 1, 2002, and May 30, 2003, the authorities approved 12,906 transmissions.

Any building for religious purposes constructed pursuant to a permit after 1992 is the property of the religious association that built it. All religious buildings erected before 1992 are "national patrimony" and owned by the State. According to the latest statistics available from the Secretariat of Government, there were 90,879 buildings dedicated to religious activities as of July 31, 2001. Of those, 80,846 were property of the State and 10,033 belonged to religious groups.

Here's what Azusa Pacific University has to say. (By the way, I once helped to build a home in Tecate under APU auspices.)

1. What does Mexican Law say about foreign ministers?

In 1993, a new Law for Religious Associations and Public Cult came out in Mexico, stating that every Church had to be registered as a Religious Association. When they register they are assigned an A.R. number, which is a registration code for the Mexican Churches.

According to this law, the only way a foreigner can perform religious activities in Mexico is by obtaining an FM-3. This license is obtained through the legal invitation of a Registered Religious Association in Mexico with an A.R. number. The Mexican Pastor must complete the paperwork and turn it in at the Immigration Office in Mexico.

2. What is an FM-3?

This license is required for people not of Mexican citizenship, granting permission to perform activities in Mexico (i.e. Religious, scientific, artistic, athletic competitions, etc.). The visa will be good for the duration of the trip. You may request an extension if you want to come back some time during the year.
This visa requires the written invitation of a Mexican church registered with an A.R. number, a letter of acceptance from your church, copies of your passport, and the Mexican pastor’s signature on the application form at Religious Affairs office in Mexico....

7. What are the penalties for performing religious activities without an FM-3?

Penalties could range from deportation from the country, a fine of up to $10,000, or time in prison for up to 3 years. This law has not been enforced in all areas of Mexico, but we know of cases in the State of Baja California where this law has been enforced and penalties have been attributed to individuals performing religious activities without an FM-3.

And here's what Baptist Mid-Missions says:

Recent changes in the Constitution concerning religious associations allow foreign missionaries to pastor and teach in local churches as well as in Bible institutes and seminaries. These changes have given more liberty for the work of the gospel than ever before.

CAM International:

For years no foreign missionaries were officially permitted in Mexico. In 1992, constitutional changes led to the thawing of relations between the Catholic church and the State and promoted fair treatment of religious minorities. These monumental changes confirmed and expanded religious freedom in Mexico.

Today, registered evangelical churches have the legal right to evangelize, to establish new churches, to purchase and own property, to hire pastors and staff, and to invite foreign missionaries to minister with them. Foreign workers related to these registered churches can obtain missionary visas which can be renewed annually without leaving the country.

Never before in the history of Mexico has there been more freedom to evangelize and plant churches.

So, are you ready to drop in on J. A. Gillmartin? Listen to the line for tourists:

San Carlos is located in the wonderful Sea of Cortez in the state of Sonora, Mexico, only 320 miles south of TucsonArizona, U.S.A., 230 miles from the border (Nogales).

San Carlos is a quiet and secure town located in the Sonora Desert with the most impressive diversity of natural beauties:

The wonderful views of the "Sierra Madre" mountains with the saguaro cactus, the sparkling blue waters of the Sea of Cortez and the most amazing sunsets. You'll feel like you're in Paradise!

To get to Guaymas-San Carlos from any airport in the United States or Canada, there are flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and flights from L.A. (LAX) airport to the Guaymas International airport (GYM ). There are also several daily flights to Hermosillo the state capital of Sonora, which is just a one hour drive from Guaymas-San Carlos.

Driving to San Carlos is only five hour trip from Tucson on 4 lane highways the entire way. After crossing the border at Nogales and your are only four hours away from San Carlos.

But J. A. Gillmartin has some pastoral competition from a famous movie actor and Lakers fan (unless this is the pastor he replaced):

Chapel by the Sea is a relatively new Christian fellowship in San Carlos Nuevo Guaymas Sonora Mexico. It is multi-denominational and pastored by Jack Nicholson.

We do not have a building to meet in presently, but the church in the plaza in which the Catholic Church meets has opened their doors to us.

There is also a San Carlos Community Church, which according to the website is pastored by Dale Lilly. (Don't know what basketball team he supports.) This church has a number of activities:

Bible Studies:

Tuesdays : 7:30 A.M. - 8:30 A.M. "Dust to Glory" - Dr. R.C. Sproul - Dave Veenbas
1:30 Bible Study - Sue Marsten
10:00 A.M. - "Names of God" - M. Hicks.
8:30 A.M. Men's Breakfast & study - Topical Christian discussion.
7:30 P.M. Couples Bible Study - Rus Graves Home


Wednesday: 8:00 AM "The Mountain Movers" - Ladies' prayer group
8:00 AM "Pulling to the Rock" - Men's Prayer group
7:00 PM Couples Bible Study - Pastor Dale @ Church

Monthly Fellowship Events : (All Church & Visitors)

Sunset Beach weenie Roast, (Fire & Food)
Church Potluck @ Church
Goodie Coffee Fellowship (After Church - BIWEEKLY)

I'm not sure which of these churches (if either) was visited in January 2000:

In our home state we call them Winter Texans. This morning we see the Mexican equivalent: a large community of North Americans spending their winters in the warmth of San Carlos. The parking lot of the nondenominational church makes me wonder which country we are in; license plates display Missouri, Kansas, Oregon, Alberta, British Columbia, … but not Sonora. The happy chattering of attendees greeting close friends drowns out the organ prelude to the service. Becci, an enthusiastic song leader, quiets the group and, later in the morning, contributes a stirring solo that to me was the highlight of the service.

Speaking of music, ther's Christie Forester:

Christie Forester was born in Ambon, Indonesia where her parents, RB and Avelone Caveness were missionaries. At twelve, she was her father's church pianist and although classically trained, seized every opportunity to create her own music ... much to her piano teachers' chagrin. After living in Singapore for many years, Christie returned to the United States where she married Walter Forester and completed her Ph.D. in Learning Disabilities.

Christie currently lives in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico where she met her producer, Leslie Sahlen. Proceeds from the Special Limited Edition CD, Heartsong Volume 1, go to support the EMS Service, RESCATE of San Carlos. Solely supported by donations, RESCATE provides 24-hour emergency medical and ambulance service for residents and visitors to the fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Cortez.

But at least there are two Wal Marts in Hermosillo. And there's a McDonalds in Guaymas with wi-fi. The important stuff.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don’t want to be a pest, I just thought that I’d share.

“All my music is free.”
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