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 III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to media reports, a draft bill legalizing abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy generated civic dialogue on issues of separation of church and state. On March 6, 71 legislators presented the draft bill; on August 9, the senate voted 38 to 31 against the abortion legalization bill, which had narrowly passed the chamber of deputies 129 to 125 on June 14. 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. Protest against the bill came largely from religious groups. On June 7, the CEA cohosted an interreligious prayer service against abortion with Muslim, Jewish, and evangelical Christian leaders. On August 4, ACIERA, the country’s largest evangelical association, held a massive march against abortion legalization. On August 8, Catholic Cardinal of Buenos Aires Mario Aurelio Poli held a public pro-life Mass. Catholic media reported on August 18, following the rejection of the abortion draft bill, thousands of individuals renounced their Catholic faith in an organized and public fashion. Catholic media reported these actions exemplified a growing confrontation between Catholic Church authorities and members calling for greater separation between church and state.
Catholic and evangelical Christian churches reported graffiti throughout the country by individuals protesting religious opposition to abortion. On March 9, graffiti in favor of abortion legalization appeared on the Metropolitan Cathedral, police headquarters, and various Catholic schools in Salta Province. On August 9, protesters painted graffiti in favor of abortion legalization on the front gates and walls of the Sacred Family Church in Neuquen Province. On September 13, unidentified individuals painted the walls of the San Justo parochial high school in Buenos Aires Province with anti-Catholic slogans. On August 11, ACIERA denounced defacement of various member churches throughout the country due to the abortion legalization debate.
Media reported a Catholic high school teacher in Buenos Aires was recorded on camera justifying anti-Semitism, stating that Hitler did “good things.” School authorities removed the teacher, Denise Yanet Evequoz, from her teaching duties in May after a video recording of her class in 2015 went viral on social media. Evequoz defended her statements and did not apologize.
In May journalist Santiago Cuneo stated during a television show that President Macri was a political partner of international Zionism and that his government had staffed the country’s intelligence agency with Israeli intelligence agents. Cuneo also personally insulted a Jewish member of the president’s cabinet and a Jewish businessman while the show was on the air. DAIA publicly condemned the journalist’s statements and said it would bring discrimination charges against him. Cuneo resigned after the incident but did not retract his statements.
On August 28, media reported unidentified individuals with unknown motives set fire to the San Roque Cathedral in Cordoba, causing property damage. The church dates back to 1760 and is a dedicated national monument. At year’s end, there were no reports of detentions of any individuals.
On September 6, two members of congress hosted a public congressional hearing on the separation of church and state. Civil society leaders, legal experts, and politicians provided remarks on religious influence in national institutions and what they stated was the need for equality among religious communities. They cited the nine draft bills in congress seeking to equalize government treatment of religious communities and remove privileges granted to the Catholic Church. On September 15, approximately three dozen individuals protested what they deemed the lack of separation of church and state by publicly renouncing their Catholic faith on the steps of the Metropolitan Cathedral and submitting 5,000 names of other individuals who renounced their Catholic faith to the CEA.
DAIA documented 404 reported complaints of anti-Semitism in 2017, compared with 351 reported complaints in 2016. Eighty-eight percent of reported incidents occurred on social media. DAIA continued to track complaints of verbal, physical, and online harassment or anti-Semitic remarks, as well as anti-Semitic language in public spaces, including social and traditional media and during demonstrations and protests. DAIA did not provide an analysis of the increase in cases.
From March to May in advance of the World Cup, the River Plate Museum, which is located in one of the largest stadiums in Buenos Aires, hosted a Holocaust exhibit entitled “It Wasn’t a Game.” The museum received approximately 25,000 visitors each month. The exhibit featured stories about soccer during the Holocaust era and highlighted Emerico Hirschl, a Hungarian-Jewish soccer coach who led the River Plate soccer team to national and international championships in the 1930s and convinced port guards to allow Jews to enter through Buenos Aires’ ports.
On November 21, the MENORA World Youth Organization and local NGO La Alameda held its first “Soccer Game for Peace” in Buenos Aires. The game brought together Senegalese Muslim immigrants with young Jewish players, creating two mixed interreligious teams to promote fraternity and understanding among the two faith communities.
According to Adalberto Assad, president of the Argentine Confederation of Arab Entities, anti-Muslim sentiment was present in the country, which is home to one of the most active Islamic organizations in Latin America (Islamic Organization of Latin America) as well as the largest mosque in Latin America (King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center). In a November article on the website of recently inaugurated Shia television channel Annur TV, Assad stated that “there is a persecution against the Muslim community in [the country]…What is happening now has never been seen before.” The article went on to discuss an arrest and home search just prior to the G20 Leaders Summit of two Muslim brothers accused of having connections to Hezbollah and an alleged weapons cache.
In Mendoza Province, a Muslim woman was denied entry to the pool of a private swimming club – Cachueta Hot Springs – because she was wearing a burkini. The club permits bathers to enter the water only with bikinis or one-piece swimsuits; an employee monitoring pool entrances refused her entry because the burkini did not fit into either of those categories. The employee stated the woman could use the other facilities of the complex but not enter the water. The woman then went to the employee who had sold her the entrance ticket and received a refund. She later made a formal complaint to INADI detailing what had happened; INADI stated that the woman was correct in her complaint and that the complex had broken the law by denying her entrance into the pool.
Interreligious groups such as Religions for Peace, whose members included Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, and indigenous religious groups, and the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom, continued to work on increasing opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges. On December 6, leaders from the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic (CIRA), the AMIA, and the CEA signed a document to further interreligious dialogue and peace. The declaration, an updated version of a similar document signed in 2005 by then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio and his peers in the interreligious community, affirmed the commitment of all involved not to permit religious conflicts from other parts of the world to affect the fraternity among religious communities in the country.