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WIN for church autonomy in Mexico: Court protects Catholic baptismal records from gender ideology

MEXICO (14 May 2024): The Twenty-second Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Mexico has upheld the constitutional autonomy rights of the Querétaro Catholic Diocese. With the legal support of ADF International, the Querétaro Diocese successfully fended off a demand from the Mexican National Institute for Data Protection to alter church records according to a transgender-identifying individual’s self-identification.  

The transgender-identifying claimant first filed a petition against the Querétaro Catholic Diocese in 2021, following a demand for the church to change the registered name and male sex on the particular baptismal records, which the church denied. The complainant held that, under Mexican data protection law, the church had an obligation to submit to the demand, regardless of biological fact and historical accuracy. 

The court ruled in favor of the Diocese, upholding that the Catholic Church has a constitutionally protected right to manage its internal affairs without interference from the government.  

We are very glad that the court in Mexico has upheld the constitutionally protected autonomy rights of the Catholic Church with this ruling in favour of the Querétaro Diocese,” said Tomás Henríquez, Director of Advocacy for Latin America and the Caribbean for ADF International.  

“Both the Mexican constitution and international law are clear: churches have the right to manage their affairs according to the convictions of their faith. This is a prerequisite for religious freedom. As the battle against gender ideology continues, this case sets an important precedent for churches and religious organizations in Mexico, and it is our hope that Mexico will take real steps to improve its religious freedom standing. Moreover, this ruling protects the basic right of the church to safeguard the accuracy of its historical records, critical for the purpose of administering its sacraments.”  

The legal defence of the Catholic Diocese of Queretaro was supported by ADF International, and the Diocese was represented domestically by the Union por las Libertades Fundamentales, a Mexico City based legal ministry in the allied network of ADF International.  

BACKGROUND 

Initially, the Mexican National Institute for Data Protection, the federal agency charged with adjudicating claims of data protection breaches, unanimously decided in favor of the claimant and issued an order for the Diocese to comply.  

The Diocese challenged the decision with the support of ADF International. The Institute’s decision was overturned by the federal district court, and subsequently the Institute.  

In April of this year, and after the Supreme Court declined to rule directly on the issue, the Mexican federal appellate court agreed with the diocese’s fundamental argument that churches and religious organizations have a constitutional right, recognized under articles 24 and 130 of the Mexican Constitution, to manage their internal affairs according to their doctrine, beliefs, and norms, upholding the prohibition on unlawful interference from the government.  

The appellate Court further held that the federal personal data protection law was unconstitutional as applied because Congress had not adequately considered the right of autonomy for churches under the Mexican law of church and state separation, and had thus not included an exemption for record keeping for church affairs. 

The decision from the appellate court in this case sets an important precedent for upholding the religious freedom and autonomy rights of churches and religious organizations in Mexico. 

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