Mexican Tribunal Rules on Controversial Santa Muerte T-Shirt

Mexican Tribunal Rules on Controversial Santa Muerte T-Shirt May 23, 2024

With Mexican elections less than two weeks away, the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Federation (TEPJF) rejected the challenge presented by the National Action Party (PAN) against the ruling party, Morena’s use of a t-shirt with the image of Santa Muerte and the phrase “Real men don’t not speak badly of López Obrador.”

The TEPJF determined that said action did not violate the principle of separation of church and state, did not constitute electoral propaganda with religious symbols, and did not incite violence.

The PAN had filed a complaint with the Electoral Litigation Technical Unit of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which was dismissed. Subsequently, the PAN took its complaint to the Superior Chamber of the TEPJF, where the majority of the judges ratified the INE’s decision, with the exception of Judge Janine Otálora Malassis, who voted against.

Judge Felipe Fuentes Barrera, responsible for the official statement, confirmed the INE’s decision, arguing that the grievances presented by the PAN were unfounded and baseless. He stated that the INE Technical Unit had carried out a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of the reported publications, without the need for a substantive statement.

Furthermore, the ruling rejected the arguments that the Technical Unit should have carried out a constitutional interpretation on whether the figure of Santa Muerte violates the principle of secularism or represents a religion, indicating that these arguments did not attack the essential foundations of the contested agreement.

Judge Janine Otálora Malassis disagreed, arguing that the ruling should be revoked because the analysis of constitutional principles on freedom of religion exceeded the purview of the INE Technical Unit.

The Mexican Santa Muerte t-shirt controversy erupted a month ago, when the ruling party, Morena, posted the shirt on its official X account. The publication aroused criticism from opposition presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, who questioned the dissemination of the figure of Santa Muerte, a skeletal folk saint not recognized by the Catholic Church who is at the center of the fastest growing New Religious Movement on the planet.

Amidst the controversy President López Obrador (AMLO) argued that the issue “has to do with religious freedom” and urged citizens to “be respectful of believers and non-believers.” “In this country we are free to have the religion that most closely adheres to our faith and we are also free to not have religion and we must be respectful of believers and non-believers,” he expressed.

The Mexican president attributed the controversy that arose after his party shared the image to the current election season. “Due to the season, now everything becomes newsworthy,” he said. After the image was released, opponents criticized it being used to support the president, while supporters argued that it is just a meme.

The defense of Santa Muerte in the name of freedom of worship by the Mexican president was politically strategic in the sense that there are millions of devotees and sympathizers and the great majority are working class, who form the core of support of both the Mexican president and his Morena party whose presidential candidate, Claudia Shienbaum leads her rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, by at least 20 points in current polls.


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