Four Mormon (or, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS) missionaries have been detained in Mexico for attempting to baptize three children without their parents’ permission, the Salt Lake Tribune is reporting.
The four missionaries, whose names, ages, and genders have not been made public, as of this writing, were working in the town of Anáhuac, in Mexico’s northern Chihuahua state, which borders Texas. Police say the missionaries approached three children — a 9-year-old boy and his 11-year-old twin brothers — and promised them food and convinced them to come with the missionaries to a nearby church. There, the missionaries allegedly tried to change the boys into baptismal clothes.
It was at that point that the boys became afraid and went home.
According to police spokesperson Estrada Ruiz, the boys’ father contacted police, who briefly took the four missionaries — all Mexican nationals — into custody. However, they were released a short time later because they didn’t actually commit any crime.
Local LDS church officials in Mexico responded quickly to the incident. A spokesperson said that the missionaries failed to contact their superiors about the baptism which, according to Mormon by-laws, requires parental permission. The local official said the four missionaries will be taken out of the area, although what will happen to them remains unclear.
In Salt Lake City, where the LDS Church is headquartered, spokesperson Eric Hawkins declined to comment, saying he would have to contact local church authorities in the area and get all of the statements from all of the parties involved, which will take some time.
Back in Anáhuac, news of the missionaries’ actions spread quickly throughout the town, and it seems the townsfolk are not happy, Ruiz said. Police officers were expected to be at LDS church services on Sunday to ensure the safety of the congregation, on the off chance that townspeople may attempt to disrupt services or harass attendees.
Mexico is a traditionally Roman Catholic nation, with almost 83 percent of the country’s 119 million people nominally or practicing Catholic, and another eight percent practicing some other form of Christianity, including mainline protestant denominations.
Mormon missionary activity is alive and well in Mexico, and the nation boasts the largest population of Mormons outside of the United States, with over one million members. Missionaries have been conducting ministry in the country since at least 1874. And since Mexico’s constitution allows for both freedom of religion and separation of church and state, Mormons are allowed to practice — and evangelize — freely.
Nevertheless, attempting to baptize a child without their parents’ permission — while not specifically a crime in Mexico — is forbidden by LDS by-laws and is, at best, inadvisable.
In the United States, the legal status of baptizing a child without their parents’ permission is somewhat ambiguous.
On the legal question-and-answer forum Just Answer, a parent wrote to complain that her 13-year-old son was baptized at a church camp without her permission, and wanted to know if she had any legal remedy. An attorney explained that she likely does not.
“Baptisms are not looked at as any type of treatment, it is looked at as an action that says you want to be saved. No different then prayer and asking for forgivness [sic]… thus there is no need for consent from the parent.”
However, carrying out the baptism by necessity requires that baptizer to physically touch the baptizee, and according to attorney Kate Forrest, a parent could make a civil case (not a criminal one) on the basis of touching the child alone.
“The parents could potentially sue for the tort of battery (people commonly misunderstand that term to refer to some degree of violence, but it is actually just a harmful or offensive touching), but it’s hard to say whether it would be worth pursuing a case like that with nominal damages, if any.”
Do you believe the Mexican Mormon missionaries who tried to baptize children without their parents’ permission committed a crime?
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