The history of the relationship between church and state in Mexico is a long and conflictual one. While nearly 90 percent of the Mexican population is affiliated with the Roman Catholic religion, historically the state has promoted secularism (Guide 1). However, the conflictual relationship between church and state erupted in numerous clashes during the 20th century; the worst case being the Cristeros Rebellion in which more than 40,000 Cristero rebels mobilized and more than 90,000 people died (Corchado 1G). Before understanding the significance of the rebellion backed by the church and mostly waged by Catholic peasants, we must look at the background of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexican history. Ever since the sixteenth century when Cortes conquered New Spain, the Roman Catholic clergy have been in Mexico.
During the eighteen hundreds the Roman Catholic Church gained great power in Mexico, mainly from control of schools, hospitals, and charity institutions. During the nineteenth century state officials began devising a series of reform laws aimed at undermining the power of the church. A new constitution was adopted in 1857, under the leadership of Benito Juarez, whose reforms were sever enough against the church that it resulted in Mexico’s first civil war fought during 1857-1860 (Guide 2). During 1920-1924, Alvaro Obregon was the president of Mexico (Tuck 1). He overthrew his former ally, Venustiano Carranza, in 1919 to assume power (Tuck 1). It was basically under Obregon’s regime that laws were enforced to undermine the Roman Catholic Church that would erupt in rebellion once his replacement, Plutarco Elias Calles, would assume the presidency.
The laws that Obregon began to enforce were enacted under the Constitution of 1917. There were five articles in the Constitution that provoked anger and ire among the clergy and Roman Catholics in Mexico. Four of these articles follow:
Article Three: ...