International Institute for Religious Freedom

Vulnerability and Active Religious Behavior

Christians and Crime Syndicates in Mexico



Existing theoretical frameworks and data collection tools relating to religious freedom suffer from various blind spots, leaving many forms of vulnerability of religiously motivated individuals and communities unobserved. We develop a new approach to observing violations of freedom of religion, informed by human security and with attention to active religious behavior. In a case study of the interactions of actively practicing Christians with crime syndicates in Northeast Mexico, we show that threats at the subnational level may have nothing to do with the quality of national legislation, and that religious freedom may be threatened by non-state actors who need not be religiously motivated. Most importantly, by focusing on religious behavior rather than religious identity, we bring to light the risks people may run because they translate their religiosity into behavior that involuntarily or intentionally challenges local powerholders.