Adherents of a religious sect in western Mexico are physically blocking school teachers from entering their walled community, setting up one of the most high-profile confrontations between religious and civil authorities in Mexico since the 1930s.

Local officials in the western state of Michoacan said Wednesday it may be time to call in a large-scale police operation to enforce the right to schooling in a community that has largely ruled itself according to what it considers biblical guidelines for almost 40 years. The New Jerusalem community prohibits formal schooling, television, radio, modern music, dress and fashion.

“I think the next step is to go in and enforce the rule of law,” said Efrain Barrera, spokesman for the township of Turicato, where the sect’s walled-off compound is.

Under Mexican law, grade school education is compulsory, and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and the Roman Catholic Church said Tuesday that the refusal to allow classes in New Jerusalem is a violation of children’s human rights.

They called on the government to break the town’s blockade, which has been limited to fistfights but could escalate. Members of the sect recently attacked and destroyed school buildings.

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