Calles Law

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The Calles Law, or Law for Reforming the Penal Code, was a statute enacted in Mexico in 1926, under the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles, to enforce the restrictions against the Catholic Church in Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Article 130 declared that the church and state are to remain separate. To that end, it required all "churches and religious groupings" to register with the state and placed restrictions on priests and ministers of all religions. Priests and ministers could not hold public office, canvass 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 monasteries, convents, and religious schools.[4]

One result of the 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By 1935, 17 states were left with no priest at all.[4] Under President Lázaro Cárdenas, the Calles Law was repealed in 1938, and constitutional freedom of worship was officially restored.[7]


  1. ^ Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to Present
  2. ^ Tuck, Jim THE CRISTERO REBELLION - PART 1 Mexico Connect 1996
  3. ^ U.S. Library of Congress "Country Studies" Mexico, Religion
  4. ^ a b Warnock, John W. The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed p. 27] (1995 Black Rose Books, Ltd) ISBN 1-55164-028-7
  5. ^ a b Van Hove, Brian Blood-Drenched Altars Faith & Reason 1994
  6. ^ Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899 p. 33 (2003 Brassey's) ISBN 1-57488-452-2
  7. ^ Time, Monday, Dec. 26, 1938, "Religion: Where Is He?"