The Assistant Secretary of State ( Moore ) to Mr. Joseph W. Murphy

Dear Mr. Murphy: Mr. W. Forbes Morgan, Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, has referred to me your request for a statement on the religious question in Mexico.

The public exercise of religious practices in Mexico is governed by the pertinent constitutional and legislative provisions of that country. By reason of the enforcement of these provisions, it is a matter of common knowledge that, while in some of the Mexican States there are facilities for Divine worship available to the inhabitants thereof, in others, where churches have been closed by the State authorities or where, even though the churches remain open, ministers of religion [Page 777] are not allowed to function or are not functioning due to the imposition of regulations with which they feel they cannot comply consistently with the rules of their respective church organizations, facilities for public religious worship under the local laws are either nonexistent or are strictly limited. However, the information before the Department does not indicate that in any of the Mexican States is there discrimination against citizens of the United States in the application of the laws and regulations pertaining to the exercise of religious worship, such laws being of general application.

In this connection, it may be said that the right of United States citizens resident or traveling in foreign countries to worship freely, to conduct services within their houses, or within appropriate buildings maintained for that purpose, is desired by this Government. There has been brought to the attention of this Government during the past three years only one complaint by any United States citizen that such opportunities in Mexico have been refused him.

In respect to the rights enjoyed by Mexican citizens living in Mexico, it has been the policy of this Administration to refrain from intervening in such direct concerns of the Mexican Government. That policy of non-intervention this Government will continue to pursue.

While this Government does not assume to undertake any accurate determination of what the facts in such domestic concerns of other governments may be, this policy of non-intervention, however, can in no sense be construed as indifference on our part. President Roosevelt stated publicly in San Diego, California, on October 2, 1935:81

“Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged. In the United States we regard it as axiomatic that every person shall enjoy the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of his conscience. Our flag for a century and a half has been the symbol of the principles of liberty of conscience, of religious freedom and equality before the law; and these concepts are deeply ingrained in our national character.

“It is true that other nations may, as they do, enforce contrary rules of conscience and conduct. It is true that policies that may be pursued under flags other than our own are beyond our jurisdiction. Yet in our inner individual lives we can never be indifferent, and we assert for ourselves complete freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the principles for which our flag has so long been the lofty symbol. As it was so well said by James Madison, ‘We hold it for a fundamental and inalienable truth that religion and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence’.”

[Page 778]

In a letter addressed to the Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, about a year ago, President Roosevelt also said:

“You and I abhor equally, I trust, religious intolerance, whether at home or abroad. For my own part, however, I decline to permit this Government to undertake a policy of interference in the domestic concerns of foreign governments and thereby jeopardize the maintenance of peaceful conditions.”

Although, as previously stated, it is not the policy of our Government to interfere directly or indirectly in what it considers to be the domestic concerns of a foreign Government, this Department has observed and will continue to observe, with the most sympathetic and lively interest for all those who may be affected thereby, developments in the religious situations in countries where the freedom of religious worship is hampered by official intolerance or governmental restrictions.

It has been gratifying to note that in recent months there has been an apparent tendency to relax the restrictions on public worship in several of the Mexican states, where additional churches have been permitted to reopen and a larger number of ministers have been allowed to exercise their functions.

Sincerely yours,

R. Walton Mooke

[See also despatch No. 4002 of October 9, 1936, from the Ambassador in Mexico, page 715, and memorandum of December 15, 1936, by the Counselor of Embassy in Mexico, page 710.]

  1. Department of State, Press Releases, October 12, 1935, pp. 261, 265.