No. 408.
Mr. Foster to Mr. Fish.

No. 225.]

Sir: The subject which has occupied the most attention and occasioned the most animated discussion of the session of the federal Congress which adjourned on the 15th instant, has been the passage of a law enforcing the constitutional amendments, known as the “laws of reform.” These amendments were transmitted with my dispatch No. 52,* September 30th, 1873.

The law just passed by Congress prohibits all religious exercises and demonstrations outside of the churches, and in some respects regulates them within the churches; prescribes the manner, and limits the extent of ownership in church property; defines and prohibits all monastic orders and religious communities; prescribes the relations and obligations of ministers of religion; defines the judicial oath; regulates the marriage rite, and prohibits compulsory labor and all restraint of personal liberty. A copy and translation of this law are herewith inclosed.

The chief cause for the very rigorous opposition which this law encountered in Congress and the public press was that it contemplated the suppression of the Sisters of Charity, (of San Vicente de Paul,) the only remaining religious order existing in the country. The official journal, in defending the action of the government, uses the following language:

Congress has only carried out the constitutional precepts. The Sisters of Charity were authorized by a law issued under abnormal circumstances for philanthropic objects. [Page 849] These circumstances no longer exist, and in passing an organic law of the constitution it would not be possible to permit the existence of said community when the constitution itself expressly forbids the existence of corporations of a religious character, whatever their form and tendencies. That which, consequently, is prohibited is, that the Sisters of Charity continue living together as a community or corporation; but the persons who form said community may continue to reside in the country if they choose, and can continue to act in their philanthropic sphere, isolated, that is to say, provided they do not obey the regulations of a monastic order.

In observance of the law, the Sisters of Charity have discontinued the charitable institutions in this city under their charge, and it is announced that all the members of the order in this republic will leave the country.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 225.—Translation.]

The laws of reform.

Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, constitutional President of the United Mexican States, to their inhabitants: Know ye, that the Congress of the union has thought best to decree the following:

The Congress of the union decrees:

Section first, article 1. The state and the church are independent of each other. No laws establishing or prohibiting any religion can be passed; but the state may exercise authority over all these so far as regards the preservation of public order and the observance of its institutions.

Article 2. The state guarantees in the republic the exercise of all forms of worship. It will prosecute and punish only those deeds and practices which, although authorized by some worship, may amount to an offense or crime according to the penal laws.

Article 3. No authority, or corporation, nor organized troop, can assemble in its official character for the acts of any worship; nor can any demonstrations in the character of religious ceremonies be made by the state. All those festival days which may not have for their exclusive object the celebration of purely civil events are, in consequence, prohibited. Sundays are designated as days of rest for offices and public establishments.

Article 4. Religious instruction and official exercises, of whatsoever worship, are prohibited in all the establishments of the federation of the states and of the municipalities. Morality shall be taught in those institutions which by their nature may permit it, although without reference to any form of worship. The infraction of this article will be punished by a government fine of from twenty-five to one hundred dollars, and with a deprivation of office of the offenders in a case of repetition of the offense. Persons who may live in public institutions, of whatsoever class, can, if they ask it, assemble in the houses of their worship, and receive in the same institutions, in case of extreme necessity, the spiritual aids of the religion which they profess. In the respective regulations the manner of obeying this authorization shall be fixed without prejudice to the object of these institutions, and without violating the provision of article 3.

Article 5. No religious act can be publicly performed except in the interior of the churches, under the penalty of the act being suspended and its authors punished with the government fine of from ten to two hundred dollars or imprisonment of from two to fifteen days. In case that to the act there should be given, in addition, an important character by the number of persons who attend it, or through any other circumstance, the authors of it, as well as the persons who do not obey the intimation of the authority that the act be suspended, shall be sent to prison and consigned to the judicial authority, incurring a punishment of from two to six months’ imprisonment. Outside of their churches neither the ministers of religion nor the individuals of either sex who profess it can use the especial or distinctive dress which characterizes them, under the penalty of a government fine of from ten to two hundred dollars.

Article 6. The use of the bells is limited strictly to the necessity of summoning to the religious exercises. In the regulations of the police there shall be set forth such rules respecting this use as shall not cause disturbance to the public.

Article 7. In order that a church may enjoy its prerogatives as such, in conformity with articles 969 and relative articles of the criminal code of the district, which, for the purpose, are declared in force in all the republic, notice of its existence and dedication must be given to the political authority of the locality, who, keeping a register of such churches, shall give notice of it to the government of the state, and [Page 850] this to the department of the interior, (gobernacion.) As soon as a church may not be dedicated to the exclusive exercise of the worship to which it pertains, acts of another sort being performed in it, it shall be expunged from the register of churches, according to the provisions of this article.

Article 8. The institution of heirs and legatees, which may be made in favor of the ministers of religion, of their relatives within the fourth civil grade, and of persons who may live with said ministers, is null when these may have given any kind whatsoever of spiritual comfort to the testators during the sickness of which they shall have died, or may have been directors of the same.

Article 9. The institution of heirs or legatees is likewise null, which, although made in favor of competent persons, may be an evasion of the law and an infringement of part 3 of article 15.

Article 10. Ministers of religion do not enjoy, by reason of their character, any privilege which may distinguish them, before the law, from other citizens, nor are they subject to more prohibitions than those which, in this law and in the constitution, may be designated.

Article 11. The discourses which the ministers of religion may pronounce counseling disobedience to the laws or provoking any crime or offense, make the assembly in which they may be delivered unlawful, and the enjoyment of the guarantee which article 9 of the constitution grants ceases, the power of annulling it being given to the authority. The author of the discourse shall be subject, in this case, to the provision in title 6, chapter 8, book 3, of the criminal code, which in this case shall be declared in force throughout the whole republic. The crimes which may be committed at the instigation or suggestion of a minister of any religion in the cases of the present article place that minister in the category of the principal author of the deed.

Article 12. All assemblies that may take place in the churches shall be public, shall be subject to the vigilance of the police, and the authority can exercise in them the duties of their office when the case may demand it.

Article 13. Religious institutions are free to be organized hierarchically as they may elect, but this organization does not produce before the state any legal effects except that of giving personality to the superiors of these institutions in each locality according to the intents of article 15. No minister of any religion can, according to the same article, address the authorities in his official character. But he shall do it in the form and with the requisites with which every citizen can in the exercise of the right of petition.

Section second, article 14. No religious institution can acquire real estate nor mortgages upon it, with the exception of churches designed immediately and directly for the service of public worship, with the dependencies attached to them which may be strictly necessary for this service.

Article 15. The rights of religious associations represented by their superior in each locality are:

That of petition.
That of ownership of the churches acquired according to the provisions of the preceding article, which right shall be regulated by the special laws of the state in which the edifices are situated; this right being extinguished when the association in each locality may be dissolved, or when the ownership may be abandoned.
That of receiving alms or donations, which can never consist in real estate, nor in any incumbrance upon real estate, either in obligations or promises of future fulfillment under title of a testamentary institution, donation, legacy, or any other class whatsoever of such obligation, since all will be null and void.
That of receiving such alms in the interior of the churches by means of the collectors who may be appointed, with the understanding that outside the churches the appointment of such collectors is absolutely prohibited, those who are so appointed being comprehended in article 413 of the criminal code of the district, which article is declared in force in all the republic.
The right which is designated in the following article.

Outside these said rights, the law recognizes no other as belonging to religious societies in their character of a corporation.

Article 16. The direct control of the churches, which, conformably to the law of the 12th of July, 1859, became the property of the nation, and which remained in the service of the Catholic worship, as also that of those churches which afterward may have been ceded to any other religious institutions whatsoever, remains in the hands of the nation, but their exclusive use, preservation, and improvement belong to the religious institutions to which they may have been ceded, so long as the consolidation of the property may not be decreed.

Article 17. The edifices of which the two former articles treat shall be exempt from the payment of taxes, except when they might be constructed or acquired nominally and expressly by one or more private persons, who hold the proprietorship of them, without transmitting it to a religious society. The proprietorship in such case shall be regulated in conformity to the common laws.

[Page 851]

Article 18. The edifices which may not be the property of private individuals, and which, according to the rule in this section and that which follows, may be recovered by the nation, shall be alienated in conformity to the existing laws on that subject.

Section third, article 19. The state does not recognize monastic orders, nor can it permit their establishment, whatsoever may be the denomination, or the object for which they may pretend to be established. Secret orders which may be established shall be regarded as unlawful meetings, which the authority can dissolve if in them the question of their members living in community shall be discussed, and in every ease the chiefs, superiors, and directors of these orders shall be judged as guilty of an attack upon the individual guarantees, in conformity to article 963 of the criminal code of the district, which is declared in force in all the republic.

Article 20. Religious societies whose members live under certain rules peculiar to them, in virtue of promises or vows, temporary or perpetual, and under subjection to one or more superiors, even though all the members of the order may have a separate habitation, are monastic orders, according to the intents of the preceding article. By the same article, the first declarations, and those relative to it, of the circular of the department of the interior (gobernacion) of the 28th of May, 1861, are without effect.

Section fourth, article 21. The simple promise to tell the truth, and the promise to fulfill the obligations which are imposed, takes the place of the religious oath in its effects and penalties; but both are the only legal requisites when affirmation is made of any fact before the tribunals, in which case the first shall be made, and the second when possession is taken of any trust or employment. This last shall be presented, a formal promise being made, without any reservation, to observe and to cause to be observed in the case the political constitution of the united Mexican States, with its additions and reforms, and the laws which may emanate from it. Such a declaration must be made by all who take possession of a public employment or trust, whether of the federation of the States or of the municipalities. In all other cases in which, according to the laws, the religious oath produced any civil effects, the promise does not produce them, even though it may be made.

Section fifth, article 22. Marriage is a civil contract, and it, as well as all other acts that determine the civil status of persons, belongs to the exclusive jurisdiction of the functionaries of the civil order, according to the provisions of the law, and they shall have the force and validity which the said laws give them.

Article 23. It belongs to the state to legislate upon the civil status of persons, and to regulate the manner in which the acts relative thereto must be published and registered, but its regulations shall be subject to the following provisions:

The officers of the civil register shall be as many in number as are necessary to accommodate all persons who may have need to go to them, and they shall always be in charge of employés of ability and approved honesty.
The registry of the acts of the civil state shall be made with due exactness and separation in books which shall be under the inspection of the political authorities. The record shall be made with all the requisites and formalities necessary to guarantee the veracity and authenticity of the acts. The books must not contain erasures, interlineations, or corrections—the note “not approved” being affixed to that which is incorrect before the signature, and the matter being written out correctly immediately following.
The civil service shall be entirely gratuitous for the public, and tariffs for the collection of fees can only be established by those acts which, capable of being performed in the offices of the government, are, at the request of the interested parties, performed at their own houses; for forwarding of certified copies of the records, and for burials which may be made in privileged places in the public cemeteries.
The officials of the civil registers shall make a copy of their books without any interruption of the records. Every six months they shall remit this copy to the archives of the government of the state, certified upon the margin with a statement of the leaves which it contains, and signed with rubrics upon the margin. They shall, besides, make a monthly report of those acts which during the month have been registered.
All the acts of the civil register shall have the character of public acts, and no one who may ask it can be denied a certified copy of any record.
The records of the register shall be the sole proof of the civil status of persons, and they shall have validity in court so long as their falsity is not proved.
Civil marriage can be contracted only by one man with one woman, bigamy and polygamy being crimes which the laws punish.
The will of the contracting parties, freely expressed in the form which the law established, constitutes the essence of civil marriage, the laws, in consequence, will protect the exercise of such will, and prevent every compulsion upon it.
Civil marriage can be dissolved only by death of one of the parties, but a temporary separation can be admitted for grave causes, which shall be determined by the legislator without either of the parties by virtue of the separation being competent to be united in marriage to another person.
Civil marriage cannot be contracted by persons who, through physical incapacity, are unable to fulfill its obligations, nor by those who, through moral incapacity, are unable to give their consent. Marriage which in these cases is contracted shall be declared null upon the petition of one of the parties.
Relationship of blood or marriage between ancestors and descendants in direct line, and of brothers and of sisters of the full blood, or uterine, shall also be causes which may prevent the contract of marriage and which may dissolve the contract.
All the suits which the married may have to try upon the nullity or the validity of the marriage, upon divorce, and all others concerning this state, shall be prosecuted before the civil tribunals which the laws may determine, without the resolutions which by chance may be passed by the ministers of religion upon those questions having any legal effect.
The law shall not hinder nor proscribe the religious rights respecting marriage. The married are free to receive the blessings of the ministers of religion or not, but they shall have no legal effect.
All cemeteries and places in which the dead may be buried shall be under the direct inspection of the civil authority, although they may be under the control of private companies. No company of this kind can be established without license from the proper authority, nor can interments or disinterments be made without a written permission or order from the competent functionary or authority.

Article 24. The civil status which a person may have, in conformity to the laws of a state or district, shall be recognized in all the rest of the republic.

Section sixth, article 25. No one can be obliged to perform personal labor without his full consent, and without just compensation. The absence of consent, although the compensation may be tendered, constitutes an attack upon the guarantee, the same as the absence of the compensation when the consent has been tacitly or expressly given as a condition of obtaining it.

Article 26. The state cannot permit that any contract, pact, or agreement shall have validity which may have for its object the diminution, loss, or irrevocable sacrifice of liberty, whether by reason of labor, education, or religious vow; nor in which the person contracts for his banishment or exile. All the stipulations which shall have been made in contravention of this article are null, and always grant to him who accepts them indemnification for the damages and injuries which it shall have caused.

general provisions.

Article 27. It belongs to the political authorities of the States to impose the government tines of which this law speaks. The said authorities shall be responsible to the governors of the States for double the amount of those fines in case they authorize or knowingly permit the law to be infringed. The governors of the States are responsible in turn for the infraction of this law, and for the omissions of which they are the authorities, and employés which may be subject to them, may be guilty.

Article 28. Those offenses that are committed as an infraction of sections 1, 2, 3, and 6 of this law have the character of federal crimes, and are under the jurisdiction of the federal tribunals; but the judges of the States may take cognizance of them, ex officio, at those points where judges of the district do not reside until, the cause has been prosecuted to the pronouncing of the sentence, remanding it then to the judge of the district to whom it pertains for his sentence. The competent authorities, in conformity to the common right of each locality, shall take cognizance of all other offenses which may be committed as an infraction of sections 4 and 5.

Article 29. There shall remain in force in this law the laws of reform, which shall be observed relative to the civil register until the States may enact those laws, which they must pass conformably to section 5. Said laws also remain in force in all that refers to the confiscation and alienation of ecclesiastical estates, and the payment of dowries to women expelled from the convents, with the modifications which by this law are made of article 8 of the law of June 25, 1856.

    Deputy President.
    Deputy Secretary.
  • J. V. VILLADA,
    Deputy Secretary.
    Deputy Secretary.

Therefore I order that it be printed, published, circulated, and due obedience given thereto.