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Letter on Policy regarding Religious Activities in Mexico.

November 13, 1935

My dear Mr. Carmody:

I HAVE received your letter of October 25th.

Without commenting upon the language of your communication under acknowledgment, and without reference to the accuracy of the statements or conclusions which you advance, I shall inform you once more of the attitude of this Administration in the matter of the policy pursued by the Government of Mexico toward religious activities in that Republic.

The right of United States citizens resident or traveling in foreign countries to worship freely, to conduct services within their houses, or within appropriate buildings maintained for that purpose, is desired by this Government. There has not been brought to this Government during the past year a single complaint by any United States citizen that such opportunities in Mexico have been refused them.

In respect to the rights enjoyed by Mexican citizens living in Mexico, it has been the policy of this Administration to refrain from intervening in such direct concerns of the Mexican Government. That policy of non-intervention I shall continue to pursue.

While this Government does not assume to undertake any accurate determination of what the facts in such domestic concerns of other Governments may be, this policy of non-intervention, however, can in no sense be construed as indifference on our part. I repeat what I stated publicly in San Diego, California, on October 2nd, last:

"Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged. In the United States we regard it as axiomatic that every person shall enjoy the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of his conscience. Our flag for a century and a half has been the symbol of the principles of liberty of conscience, of religious freedom and equality before the law; and these concepts are deeply ingrained in our national character.

"It is true that other Nations may, as they do, enforce contrary rules of conscience and conduct. It is true that policies that may be pursued under flags other than our own are beyond our jurisdiction. Yet in our inner individual lives we can never be indifferent, and we assert for ourselves complete freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the principles for which our flag has so long been the lofty symbol. As it was so well said by James Madison, 'We hold it for a fundamental and inalienable truth that religion and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.'"

This statement, I now reiterate to you.

Inasmuch as you have referred in your letter under acknowledgment to the policy pursued in such matters as this by previous Administrations and have mentioned specifically the Administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, it may not be inappropriate to call to your attention the statement of former President Theodore Roosevelt contained in his Annual Message to the Congress of December 6, 1904:

". . .Ordinarily it is very much wiser and more useful for us to concern ourselves with striving for our own moral and material betterment here at home than to concern ourselves with trying to better the conditions of things in other Nations. We have plenty of sins of our own to war against, and under ordinary circumstances we can do more for the general uplifting of humanity by striving with heart and soul to put a stop to civic corruption, to brutal lawlessness and violent race prejudices here at home than by passing resolutions about wrongdoing elsewhere."

You and I abhor equally, I trust, religious intolerance, whether at home or abroad. For my own part, however, I decline to permit this Government to undertake a policy of interference in the domestic concerns of foreign Governments and thereby jeopardize the maintenance of peaceful conditions.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Martin H. Carmody,

Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus,

New Haven, Connecticut

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter on Policy regarding Religious Activities in Mexico. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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