Calles Law

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The Calles' Law, or Law for Reforming the Penal Code, was a reform of the penal code in Mexico under the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles. The code reinforced strong restrictions against clerics and the Catholic Church put forth under Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Article 130 declares that the church and state are to remain separate. To that end, it requires all "churches and religious groupings" to register with the state and places restrictions on priests and ministers of all religions. Priests and ministers cannot hold public office, canvas on behalf of political parties or candidates, or inherit property from persons other than close blood relatives.

President Calles applied existing laws regarding the separation of church and state throughout Mexico and added his own legislation. In June 1926, he signed the "Law for Reforming the Penal Code", which became known unofficially as the "Calles Law." This law provided specific penalties for priests and individuals who violated Article 130 of the 1917 Constitution. For example, wearing clerical garb in public was punishable by a fine of 500 pesos (approximately 250 U.S. dollars at the time, or worth $4250 in 2010[1]); a priest who criticized the government could be imprisoned for five years.[2] Some states enacted further measures in the name of church and state separation. Chihuahua, for example, enacted a law permitting only a single priest to serve the entire Catholic congregation of the state.[3] To help enforce the law, Calles seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools.[4]

One result of Calles Law was the Cristero War, a popular uprisings of Catholic peasants in regions of central Mexico against the federal Mexican government. Between 1926 and 1934, at least 40 priests were killed during the war.[5] Whereas Mexico had some 4,500 Catholic priests prior to the Cristero War, by 1934 only 334 Catholic priests were licensed by the government to serve Mexico's 15 million people.[5][6] By 1935, 17 states were left with no priest at all.[4] Under Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas, the Calles law was repealed and constitutional freedom of worship was officially restored for clerics and the church.[7]