Argentina

Executive Summary

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess freely one’s faith.  The constitution provides the government will grant the Roman Catholic Church preferential legal status, but there is no official state religion.  By law, public schools are secular, but private schools run by registered religious institutions are eligible for government subsidies.  The government continued its investigation into the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center.  In March the Criminal Cassation Court upheld a federal judge’s petition to arrest Senator and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on charges of “aggravated concealment” for allegedly attempting to cover up possible Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing by signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran.  At the September UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, President Mauricio Macri urged international support for the country’s demands that Iran cooperate in the continuing investigation of the AMIA attack and the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.  Investigations into the murder of Alberto Nisman, the former special prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, continued.  On April 17, a group of parents in Tucuman Province filed suit against a religious curriculum in the province’s public schools, citing a 2017 Supreme Court decision that incorporating religious education in public schools was unconstitutional and stating that educators were exclusively teaching Catholicism in schools.  The government sponsored and government officials actively participated in interfaith events throughout the year.

According to media reports, there was considerable civic debate on the separation of church and state in light of a draft bill legalizing abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, which the Senate voted down on August 9.  Protesters supporting and opposing the draft bill, including from many religious groups, held massive and largely peaceful overnight demonstrations in front of congress before voting occurred on June 14 and August 9.  Catholic and evangelical Christian churches reported offensive graffiti throughout the country that they believed individuals protesting religious opposition to abortion had written.

Embassy officials met with senior government officials, including the secretary of worship and officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) human rights office and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to discuss ways to promote respect for religious minorities and counteract religious discrimination.  Embassy outreach efforts included regular meetings with government officials and religious and community leaders to discuss interfaith collaboration and encourage the increased participation of religious communities in embassy-sponsored scholarship and educational programs.  A Department of State official met with religious leaders and government officials, including parliamentarians, to discuss religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  Religious demographic and statistical data from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research centers, and religious leaders vary.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, Catholics constitute 71 percent of the population, Protestants 15 percent, and atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious affiliation 11 percent.  Other sources state Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) together total 3 percent of the population.  According to the Pew study, the Jewish population is approximately 0.5 percent, and the Muslim population is estimated at 1 percent.  Evangelical Christian communities, particularly Pentecostals, are growing in size, but no reliable statistics are available.  There are also a small number of Baha’is, Buddhists, and adherents of indigenous religions in the country; however, no data are available on the size of these groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the right to profess, teach, and practice freely one’s faith.  It declares the support of the federal government for “the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith,” but the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not an official or state religion.

The government provides the Catholic Church with tax-exempt subsidies, institutional privileges such as school subsidies, significant autonomy for parochial schools, and licensing preferences for radio frequencies.  The law does not require the Catholic Church to register with the Secretariat of Worship in the MFA.  Registration is not compulsory for other religious groups, but registered groups receive the same status and fiscal benefits as the Catholic Church, including tax-exempt status, visas for religious officials, and the ability to hold public activities.  To register, religious groups must have a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy, among other requirements.

Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those held in homes, but is sometimes necessary to conduct activities in public spaces pursuant to local regulations.  City authorities may require groups to obtain permits to use public parks for public activities, and they may require religious groups to be registered with the Secretariat of Worship to receive a permit.  Once registered, an organization must report to the secretariat any significant changes or decisions made regarding its leadership, governing structure, size of membership, and the address of its headquarters.

The mandatory curriculum in public schools is secular by law.  Students may request elective courses of instruction in the religion of their choice in some public schools, which may be conducted in the school or at a religious institution.  Many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups operate private schools, which receive financial support contingent on registration with the government.

Foreign religious officials of registered religious groups may apply for a specific visa category to enter the country.  The validity period of the visa varies depending on the purpose of the travel.  Foreign missionaries of registered religious groups must apply to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities to request the issuance of the appropriate documents.

The board of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), a government agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, includes representatives of the major religious groups.  INADI investigates suspected and reported incidents of discrimination based on religion.  INADI is not authorized to enforce recommendations or findings, but its reports may be used as evidence in civil court.  The agency also supports victims of religious discrimination and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination.  INADI produces and distributes publications to promote religious tolerance.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March the Cassation Court upheld a federal ruling against Senator and former President Fernandez de Kirchner on “aggravated concealment” charges, seeking her arrest on allegations that the purpose of a 2013 memorandum of understanding the Kirchner administration signed was to cover up possible Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.  Eighty-five persons died in the bombing.  In November the lower court’s request to lift her immunity from prosecution as a sitting senator expired after a senate’s session did not achieve a quorum.  While the new tribunal could issue a new request, the legislature could not take action on the measure until the onset of new congressional sessions in March 2019.  Fernandez de Kirchner, her former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who died on December 30, and 11 others were indicted in December 2017 and awaited trial at year’s end.

At the September UNGA, President Macri urged international support for the country’s demands that Iran cooperate in the continuing investigation of the AMIA attack and the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

In mid-November closing arguments ended in the AMIA community center bombing case seeking to establish local complicity in the 1994 incident, including charges against former President Carlos Menem and other former security and intelligence officials.  The oral stage, which is the final stage of the trial, remained ongoing at year’s end.  In October 2017, Interpol renewed Red Notices seeking the location and arrest of five Iranians, one Lebanese, and one Colombian for their suspected roles in the AMIA bombing.

Judicial inquiries into the 2015 murder of Alberto Nisman, the lead federal prosecutor responsible for the investigation of the 1994 AMIA bombing, continued during the year.  On June 2, a federal appeals court affirmed the lower court’s preliminary finding that Nisman was murdered.  In December 2017, a federal judge indicted Diego Lagomarsino, Nisman’s former assistant, as an accessory to his death, as well as four security officials for criminal cover-up and failing to ensure Nisman’s protection.

The Macri administration cosponsored with the Jewish community and the Israeli embassy, for the first time in 26 years, a public commemoration of the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, and government officials expressed their commitment to transparency and pursuing justice.

On April 19, a group of parents in Tucuman Province filed suit against having a religious curriculum in the province’s public schools, citing the 2017 Supreme Court decision that incorporation of religious education in public schools was unconstitutional and stating that educators were exclusively teaching Catholicism in the schools.  Political observers commented that provincial education laws in Catamarca, Cordoba, La Pampa, and San Luis Provinces had similar provisions that could come under judicial review.  In December 2017, the Supreme Court ruled the incorporation of religious education in public schools in Salta Province was unconstitutional in a suit filed by the Association of Civil Rights and supported by parents and the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches in the Argentine Republic (ACIERA).  According to media reports, the provincial government subsequently made efforts to remove obligatory religious education in public schools, although such classes remained optional in some schools.

Secretary of Worship Alfredo Abriani publicly prioritized the passage of a draft religious freedom bill, first submitted in 2017, but there was no action on the legislation by year’s end.  The bill would eliminate the requirement that non-Catholic religious groups register with the government to receive the same benefits accorded to the Catholic Church, allow for conscientious objection on the basis of religion, and protect religious dress, holidays, and days of worship.

On August 24, the Argentine Episcopal Conference (CEA), representing the Catholic Church, announced its intention to cease receiving certain public funds provided as direct financial support by the national government.  On November 3, the group announced ongoing negotiations with the Macri administration to decrease such payments, primarily allocated for the salaries of Catholic bishops and seminarians.  State-funded financial support amounted to approximately 152 million Argentine pesos ($4.04 million) during the year, or 7 percent of the Church’s annual budget.  Although congress passed the 2019 national budget, it did not make public the government’s allocations to the Catholic Church.  Secretary of Worship Abriani stated the national budget would include allocations to the Catholic Church.  Church representatives continued to discuss measures to reduce their dependence on federal funding.

Many Jewish groups said they viewed relations with the Macri administration as positive and productive.  Close collaboration among these groups and the government continued, particularly in light of what they characterized as the administration’s commitment to resolve the Nisman killing and to pursue justice in its investigations of the 1994 AMIA attack and the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy.

Secretary of Worship Abriani, the human rights secretary, the Buenos Aires director general for religious affairs, and other government representatives continued to host and attend religious freedom conferences, interreligious dialogues, rabbinical ordinations, Catholic services, and Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Adha, and Eid al-Fitr celebrations, as well as other religious activities, including those held by Protestant and Orthodox churches.  On September 4-5, the City of Buenos Aires hosted the Third World Congress on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue, aimed at promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding.  Participants included representatives from the Catholic Church, Orthodox Greek Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Orthodox Episcopal Anglican Communion, and Church of Jesus Christ.  Other attendees included the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and the Islam for Peace Institute.

On August 22, Buenos Aires hosted an interfaith festival highlighting diverse religious communities in the country at the Costanera Sur convention center.  The event sought to recognize and celebrate the religious diversity of Buenos Aires, according to local government officials.

On September 26-28, the government supported the fifth annual Group of 20 (G20) Interfaith Forum hosted by international religious and civil society groups.  The conference considered the G20 2018 summit theme of “Building Consensus for Fair and Sustainable Development” from a faith-based perspective.  Vice President Gabriela Michetti provided opening remarks.

From October 29 to November 1, 500 youth from more than 15 countries participated in the Third World Youth Meeting hosted by Jewish and other religious organizations with the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology.

INADI continued to spearhead education campaigns directed at public and private schools to facilitate a better understanding among youth of religious tolerance and respect for diversity.  On July 26, INADI announced a new private-sector partnership, “Business for Diversity,” to counter discrimination and encourage diversity in the workplace, including religious diversity.  On July 10, INADI signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Argentine Federation of Maccabean Community Centers to counter discrimination based on religion in sports.  INADI continued to work with UNICEF to counter cyberbullying, including religious discrimination.

In April the MFA provided the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA) with copies of approximately 140,000 World War II Holocaust-era documents for research purposes.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

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