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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.

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.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed.  The constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion.  The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance.  Courts may fine or imprison for two to five years any individual who displays, distributes, or broadcasts religiously intolerant material; the government did not apply the law during the year.  It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.

Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality.  States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status.  Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship.  Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.

Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters.  By law, the instruction should be nondenominational, conducted without proselytizing, and with alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate.  The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.

A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments.  The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.

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

Government Practices

According to media reports, on September 19, a court in Porto Alegre convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings.  The attack took place in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul State, on May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.  The three convicted defendants were members of a group called Carecas do Brasil (Skinheads of Brazil) that disseminates anti-Semitic and Nazi content on the internet.  The three sentences totaled 38 years and eight months in prison.  According to media sources, the other 11 defendants in the case would also stand trial; however, by year’s end the court had not set a date.

In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with COPIER, filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of the constitutional right to religious freedom.  The Public Ministry filed the case for reparation of collective moral damages on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva, who was at the Rei Hungria terreiro when six police officers and one official from the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment (MSE) searched her building alleging she practiced black magic and abused animals.  Dos Anjos Silva stated she suffered emotional trauma.  The Public Ministry required the municipality to pay 50,000 reais ($12,900).  The MSE stated it did not have a policy of restricting the right to use animals for religious worship and ritual and that the inspection was an isolated event carried out without the proper authorization and knowledge of the municipal secretary of the environment or the director of the department of environmental control.

Rio de Janeiro State’s hotline, called “Dial to Combat Discrimination,” continued to respond to a growing number of incidents targeting practitioners and terreiros.  The state government signed cooperation agreements with local universities to assist victims of religious intolerance.  According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, between June and September the hotline received 32 calls and assisted 88 victims; no comparable information was available for 2017 because the hotline started operations in August 2017.  The secretariat stated 74 percent of the callers were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions.  The state also established the Police Station for Racial Crimes and Incidents Related to Religious Intolerance, created in August and officially launched in December.

On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In Rio de Janeiro, the state governor signed a bill on January 19 to create the State Council for Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The council consists of 32 members from civil society, state officials, members of the Brazilian Bar Association, and religious groups.  In Bahia State, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Black Movement nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) organized a debate and cultural activities at Tumba Junsara terreiro, Engenheiro Velho de Brotas in the state capital Salvador.  Other cities, including Sao Paulo and Recife, also held events.

In February Brasilia-based ASDIR and SEPPIR launched a campaign entitled “Religious Diversity:  To Know, To Respect, To Value.”  The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The campaign launch featured a showing of the short film “By My Side” (“Do Meu Lado”), a panel discussion on the theme “Dialogue for Diversity,” and the launch of two publications, “Religious Intolerance in Brazil” and “Secular State, Intolerance, and Religious Diversity.”

In March the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) prohibited political campaigning in churches and religious spaces as well as in all public spaces.  The TSE made its ruling ahead of national elections on October 7 and October 28.  Some religious and civil society groups said they did not follow the ruling and continued to campaign for the candidates they supported.

In April the Municipal Office for the Respect of Religious Diversity in Rio de Janeiro organized an interfaith seminar for practitioners of different religions in Rio.  Approximately 120 individuals attended the event.

In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a joint program between the State Secretariat of Education and the State Secretariat of Human Rights and Women’s Policies to incorporate discussions of religious intolerance into the curriculum of all public schools in the state.  According to media, students across the state watched a video on religious tolerance produced by students participating in the More Human Education Program at the Pedro II State High School in the northeastern part of the state.  This video was the first in a series of five short films; according to media sources, other public schools in the state would also produce original videos, which students could view at school and access on social media platforms.  Student discussion would follow video screenings.

In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and the University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble terreiros in the Federal District.  The study verified the existence of 330 terreiros, of which 87.8 percent are in urban areas.  The majority of the terreiros – 58 percent – are Umbanda, while 33 percent are Candomble and 9 percent both.

In May the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill to reduce prison sentences for prisoners who read the Bible.  Based on a general recommendation from the National Council of Justice (CNJ), the law reduced prison sentences for prisoners engaging in work, study, or reading.  The CNJ recommendation included reducing sentences by four days for every completed book with a limit of 12 books per year.  The Sao Paulo law allows prisoners to receive credit for each individual book in the Bible.  In June Federal Deputy Marco Antonio Cabral introduced similar legislation at the national level.

In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.  Attendees recommended the creation of police stations in each state dedicated to investigating crimes of racism and religious intolerance, thorough implementation of a law requiring an Afro-Brazilian history and culture class in all schools, a nationwide mapping of violence against followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and financial compensation for victims of racism and religious intolerance.  In August Rio de Janeiro State inaugurated a police station dedicated to investigating crimes of race and intolerance.  The Federal District, Parana State, and Mato Grosso do Sul State continued to operate similar police stations.

In June the Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the Federal District Legislative Assembly held a seminar on Rights, Public Policy, Religion, and Racism.  The seminar included sessions on racism and religion; racial crimes, hate crimes, and combating intolerance; and public policies on combating racism and religious intolerance.

The Supreme Court case on the right to practice animal sacrifice as an element of religious ritual began on August 9.  The Public Ministry in Rio Grande do Sul State brought the case before the court, challenging a state court ruling permitting practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to perform animal sacrifices.  Adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions said the criticism of and challenges to the practice of animal sacrifice were motivated more by racism than concern for the welfare of the animals, stating the practice of animal sacrifice was in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights.  On August 8, the eve of the Supreme Court vote, demonstrators gathered in the capitals of Bahia and Pernambuco States to defend animal sacrifice as part of their religious beliefs.  Rapporteur Justice Marco Aurelio and Justice Edson Fachim voted to uphold the state ruling; however, Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested additional time to review the case, which indefinitely postponed the final vote of the 11-member court pending the completion of the review.

On September 28, the Federal Court in Santa Catarina State overturned a regulation of the capital city of Florianopolis that restricted the hours of operation of terreiros.  The existing regulation adopted in 2013 required terreiros to acquire business permits, similar to bars; terreiros without business permits had to close by 2 a.m. every day and could not use candles.

On October 23, the Federal District commemorated its third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the Federal District Committee for Religious Diversity hosted an interfaith event in Brasilia entitled “Intergenerational Meeting for Respect for Religious Diversity.”  Participants discussed the creation of a working group to arrange for public officials to visit places of worship and schools to emphasize the importance of religious tolerance.

A religious diversity specialist at the Ministry of Human Rights said five of the country’s 26 states – Amazonas, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Tocantins, and Rio de Janeiro – as well as the Federal District had committees for the respect of religious diversity.  The ministry also stated the 10-member National Committee for the Respect of Religious Diversity remained active, meeting four times during the year.

In May the State Secretariat of Human Rights launched the Itinerant Forum for the Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The forum assisted victims of religious intolerance in several municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State.  According to media, members of the forum visited the Afro-Brazilian terreiro Tenda Espirita Cabocla Mariana in Seropedica, Baixada Fluminense, and spoke to the terreiro priest who received death threats because of her religious leadership role.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media reported that Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced what the group said were frequent acts of violence by evangelical Protestants against shamanic rituals of the Guarani-Kaiowas.  Izaque Joao, an indigenous researcher and historian, said, “The churches enter in large quantities into the indigenous communities, degrading the traditional culture and devaluing traditional beliefs.”  Spensy Pimentel, an anthropologist, journalist, and professor from Federal University of Southern Bahia, said, “The most visible facet of religious intolerance has been in incidents of the Umbanda and Candomble terreiros while the attacks on the indigenous groups remain covered up.”  Pimental also said, “Incidents of religious intolerance against shamanic believers are rarely registered, because many times they involve the elderly, who speak Portuguese poorly and aren’t accustomed to leaving their villages.”

In September Wicca Priestess Alana Morgana said she had been receiving death threats since the spread of rumors, including allegations she was involved in abductions and child sacrifices.  An origin for the rumors may have been an unauthorized video posted online on August 13 showing Morgana and other Wiccans participating in a religious ceremony in Rio de Janeiro State.  Morgana submitted a letter to local police requesting the removal of the video from the internet.  She stated this was the first time in 30 years she had suffered religious reprisals.  Media reported police continued to try to identify those who sent the death threats.

According to media reports, in May heavily armed drug traffickers raided a Candomble terreiro in Cordovil, a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  According to the State Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, they forced Didi Yemanja, the priestess on site, to leave the terreiro and expelled her from the community.  The alleged traffickers said, “She knew she was not allowed to have an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in the neighborhood.”  After the assailants expelled the religious leader, they remained near the terreiro to prevent other practitioners from entering.  Yemanja said for a few months prior to the incident, Candomble practitioners faced discrimination when wearing religious clothing in public in the neighborhood.  Yemanja said she decided not to press charges against the aggressors for fear of reprisals.

According to media reports, on May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, telling the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada”; they also attempted to set fire to the building but caused only minor damage.  This was the third incident to occur at this synagogue during the year.  In response to the incident, President of the Jewish Federation of Rio Grande do Sul Zalmir Chwartzmann said, “We will not tolerate this kind of attitude; an attack of this magnitude is an offense against the democratic state of law, against freedom of expression and religion, as well as a warning that hate speech is passing from theory to practice, importing a conflict that is not Brazilian and putting our entire society at risk.”

According to media reports, in July a group of unidentified individuals attacked a Candomble terreiro in Buzios in Rio de Janeiro State.  Practitioners were inside when a group of individuals threw stones at the building, damaging the roof but not hurting anyone inside.  Rio de Janeiro State police opened an investigation, which continued through the end of the year.

Media reported that in May a group of vandals entered the Spiritist Center Caboclo Pena Branca terreiro in Baixada Fluminense, setting fire to some areas of the terreiro, destroying sacred objects, and spray-painting messages such as “get out of here macumbeiros (witches)” and “this is no place for macumba (witchcraft).”  Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions said these terms were derogatory when nonpractitioners used them.

In September the Jewish Israelite Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah in the Zona Sul area of the city.  They said police were trying to identify the attackers.

According to media, on October 4, individuals vandalized the Church of Our Lady of Aparecida in the center of Teodoro Sampaio in Sao Paulo State.  The assailants spray painted “God is gay” on the walls of the church.  According to media, police identified two female suspects, but it was unclear whether police detained anyone.

Media reported that on October 17, police arrested two individuals suspected of vandalizing the Sao Pedro da Serra chapel in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro State.  Police used security camera footage to identify the men who spray-painted swastikas.  A third individual turned himself in to police authorities.

Between January and June SDH’s nationwide Dial 100 human rights hotline registered 210 complaints related to cases of religious intolerance.  The number of complaints during the comparable period of 2017 was 169.

According to the Bahia State Secretariat, there were 47 cases of religious intolerance in the state during the year, compared with 21 cases in 2017.

As of September the Sao Paulo Secretariat of Justice registered 5,290 reports of religious intolerance in the state.  All of the reports were of “verbal harassment” and were under police investigation as cases of defamation, libel, or slander.  The Brazilian National Movement against Religious Intolerance, created in 2016, sent 13 cases to the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo for further legal proceedings.  These cases involved followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, who said they were subjected to slurs such as “son of Satan” or “Satan’s envoy.”

The Mato Grosso do Sul State Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights and the coordinator of racial equality reported the number of cases of religious intolerance in the state increased 800 percent compared with 2017.

According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, in Rio de Janeiro there was a 51 percent increase in incidents of religious intolerance from 2017 to 2018.  From January until the first week of December, there were 103 incidents of religious intolerance, compared with 68 incidents during the same period in 2017.  According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, African religious groups experienced the greatest number of incidents, with 31 percent of complaints involving practitioners of Candomble, 26 percent other African religions, and 17 percent Umbanda.  The municipalities with the highest record of incidents were Rio de Janeiro, Nova Iguacu, and Duque de Caxias – with 49 percent, 10 percent, and 7 percent of incidents occurring in these municipalities, respectively.  Marcio de Jagun, president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom, said, “The increase in cases of religious intolerance can be attributed to three factors:  the creation of a service in which society trusts, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.”

In January the Parana State chapter of the NGO Collective of Negro Entities (CEN) signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Center for Legal Practice at University Positivo and the state’s Public Defender’s Office for the provision of legal counsel in cases of religious intolerance and racism.  CEN also formed a group of researchers with expertise on the Umbanda and Candomble religions.  The research group said it would produce articles on terreiros and the religious impact of laws and public policy.

Media reported that on August 19, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with support from the Brazilian Bar Association in the Federal District (DF), Regional Psychology Council, Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the DF Legislative Assembly, and DF Religious Diversity Committee, organized the first Freedom Circuit run in Brasilia.  The objective of the event was to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding of religion.  More than 100 individuals from various religious faiths participated, during which organizers collected signatures in support of a local bill to combat religious intolerance in public schools in the Federal District.

On September 16, the NGO Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance organized the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.  Organizers estimated the event drew approximately 70,000 practitioners from diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and atheists.

The religious freedom commissions of chapters of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) across the country remained active throughout the year.  OAB Recife organized a panel presentation on Citizenship, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom on April 12.  OAB Bahia hosted an event called “Islamophobia” in Brazil on May 10.  OAB Ceara held a workshop on religious freedom on May 22.  OAB Sao Paulo hosted its sixth State Congress on rights and religious liberty on May 25, as well as a discussion on Religious Freedom and Economic Development on September 6.

The Jewish Museum of Sao Paulo, built on the remains of Beth-El Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the city, was under construction during the year.  Funding for the museum was raised primarily through private investors and the local community.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship.  It states that these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.”  Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship, as long as the locations comply with public hygiene and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.

According to the constitution, religion and state are officially separate.  The law prohibits discrimination based on religion, provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination based on their religion or belief, and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence.  The law prohibits discrimination in the provision of discrimination in the provision of social services, education, ability to practice religious beliefs or gain employment, property rights, and the rights to build places of worship.

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government; however, there are tax benefits for those that do.  Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization; religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than a private corporation or a secular nonprofit.  Under the law, religious nonprofit organizations may create affiliates, such as charitable foundations, schools, or additional houses of worship, which retain the tax benefits of the religious parent organization.  According to ONAR, public law recognizes more than 3,200 religious organizations as legal entities.  By law, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) may not refuse to accept the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.

Applicants for religious nonprofit status must present the MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter, corresponding bylaws with signatures, and the national identification numbers of charter signatories.  The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure.  The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, and its physical address, and it must include confirmation that bylaws have been approved by the religious institutions’ charter signatories.  In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group may petition; the petitioning group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or can challenge them in court.  Once a religious entity is registered, the state may not dissolve it by decree.  If concerns are raised about a religious group’s activities after registration, the semi-autonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter.  The government has never deregistered a legally registered group.  One registration per religious group is sufficient to extend nonprofit status to affiliates, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, and sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities.  According to ONAR, the MOJ receives approximately 30 petitions monthly.  The MOJ has not objected to any petition and has registered every group that completed the required paperwork.

By law, all schools must offer religious education for two teaching hours per week through pre-elementary, elementary, middle, and high school.  Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured.  The majority of religious instruction in public schools is Catholic.  The Ministry of Education also has approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups, such as orthodox and reformed Jews, evangelical Christians, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Schools must provide religious instruction for students according to students’ religious affiliations.  Parents may have their children excused from religious education.  Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or enroll them in private, religiously oriented schools.

The law grants religious groups the right to appoint chaplains to offer religious services in public hospitals and prisons.  Prisoners may request religious accommodations.  Regulations for the armed forces and law enforcement agencies allow officially registered religious groups to appoint chaplains to serve in each branch of the armed forces, in the national uniformed police, and the national investigative police.

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

Government Practices

According to ONAR and media reports, from January to November arsonists set fire to 13 churches, primarily in rural Araucania Region and in Santiago Region during Pope Francis’ January visit.  There were at least eight arson attacks against churches the previous year.  Of the affected churches, three were evangelical Christian and the others Catholic.  The Araucania region is home to the country’s largest indigenous community, the Mapuche.  According to political sources, the church attacks appeared to fit into the pattern of protest and sabotage by the Mapuche group Weichan Auka Mapu and Mapuche land rights sympathizers.  They said the attacks targeted a wide range of institutions and private-sector business interests in the Araucania region, including trucks, farm equipment, a kindergarten, and farm structures.  According to anthropologists, while the Mapuche largely identify as Christian, they maintain historic grievances against the government for seizing Mapuche lands, and against Christian churches, which the Mapuche hold responsible for “colonialization” of the regions.  No one was hurt in the attacks.  Several Catholic and evangelical churches and Mapuche leaders publicly called on authorities to strengthen their investigations into church burnings.

In April judges sentenced brothers Pablo and Benito Trangol to 10 years in prison for arson due to their involvement in the 2016 burning of Our Father Evangelical Church in Temuco.  The brothers denied involvement in the incident and affiliation with Weichan Auka Mapu.  Weichan Auka Mapu did not claim responsibility for the church burning.

In response to the church burnings and unrest in the region, President Pinera traveled to Araucania in September and announced the National Accord for Development and Peace in the Araucania, a program led by the minister of social development to address the roots of the Mapuche conflict, including ethnicity and religion.  The program includes formal constitutional recognition of the country’s indigenous peoples and institutional measures to promote their political participation, mechanisms for government-Mapuche dialogue, and a plan for major investment in infrastructure.  Media reported some Mapuche viewed the initiative as a continuation of “economic colonialism” in the region.  In September several Mapuche marched in Temuco and other indigenous communities to reject the plan.  Other Mapuche leaders in Temuco expressed guarded optimism about the plan.

In July the government granted a Mapuche spiritual leader convicted of homicide a 48-hour temporary release from prison to visit his rewe, or sacred altar, “to renew his spiritual energy.”  The government’s action was widely covered by the press.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization whose mandates include documenting and memorializing the Holocaust, wrote an open letter to President Pinera denouncing his meeting in May with PA President Abbas.  The letter stated that government reception of PA delegates over the last year “has led to increasing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity, especially on university campuses.”  The government did not respond publicly to the letter.

In June several Jewish organizations expressed concern when the mayor of Valdivia announced the town would join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.  The measure prohibits the city from working with any business that benefits or is linked to “Israel’s occupation of Palestine” or “Israel’s apartheid policy that targets Palestinians.”  At year’s end, the central government continued to assess the constitutionality of the city’s decision.

In July the Office of the National Prosecutor announced it had investigated 158 members of the country’s Roman Catholic Church for committing or covering up sexual abuse of minors and adults.  The investigation subjects included reports of abuse by bishops, other clerics, and lay workers filed since 2000, with some reported abuses dating back to 1960.  According to the office, the number of victims was 266, including 178 children and teenagers.  In August investigating prosecutors raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference as part of a widespread investigation into sex abuse committed by members of the Marist Brothers order.

Catholic and Episcopalian leaders condemned congress’ September approval of a gender identity law, allowing transgender individuals 14 years and older with parental or a guardian’s consent to change their name and gender in official records.  In January authorities removed a group of protesters from congress after they interrupted a debate over sex changes for transgender youth.  The protesters said sex change operations were “against the will of God” and contrary to religious teachings.

In March the government disbanded the Interfaith Advisory Council, a roundtable organization created by the previous administration and comprising religious leaders representing the country’s religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Baha’is, among others.  ONAR said it would convene another similar body, with members chosen by the new administration, but the government did not form the council by year’s end.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jewish community leaders stated concern about a rise in religious tensions, citing a perceived increase in acrimony towards Jews, especially on the part of the country’s Palestinian population, after the U.S. government moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  La Comunidad Judia de Chile, a leading Jewish civil society organization, reported a graffiti drawing reading “Resist Palestine” outside a Jewish community center in Santiago; a flyer that read “Free Palestine” inside the bathroom of a Sephardic Jewish community center in Santiago in July; and an article in a Valdivia city newspaper authored by a local Chilean-Palestinian youth group that denounced Israel as “an apartheid state and a terrorist country that has initiated an ethnic and cultural extermination” against the Palestinian people.

According to media, the General Union of Palestinian Students chapter at the University of Chile’s Law School denounced and boycotted the student council campaign of a Jewish student who they said professed Zionist beliefs.  The Organization of Jewish Students of Chile condemned the boycott in a public statement, saying the statements regarding Zionism were “a way to hide anti-Semitism.”

Jewish community leaders also expressed concern about anti-Semitic social media commentary against individual and Jewish community groups.  In May graffiti found on the walls of the E50 Republic of Israel public school read “No to the plan andinia [sic], inform yourself” (referring to a long-held conspiracy theory circulated by anti-Semitic groups that Jews planned on creating a Jewish state in parts of Chile and Argentina) and “Israel terrorist state,” along with the Star of David, an equal sign, and following it, a swastika.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states, “The State does not support any particular religion.”  The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The constitution accords the Catholic Church the right to ownership of all its churches built wholly or partly with previous state funding, with the exception of chapels dedicated for use by asylums, hospitals, prisons, or other public establishments.

Religious groups are entitled to property tax exemptions only for their houses of worship.  To receive such exemptions, a religious group must register as a nonprofit organization with the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) and present a dossier with the organization’s structure and objectives.  The ministry examines the dossier and determines if the religious group is eligible to receive a tax exemption.  The MEC routinely registers groups submitting the required paperwork.  If approved, the group may request a property tax exemption from the taxing authority, usually the local government.

During the year, the government transitioned from an inquisitorial system of justice to an accusatory justice system.  According to the government, the change aimed to address inefficiency, opacity, and the overuse of pretrial detentions, and to establish a more fair and transparent judicial system that provides greater advocacy to victims.  Of the approximately 8,300 cases processed from the switch to the accusatory system through August, 79 percent went through alternative dispute resolution processes.  The new criminal procedure code was reformed through additional legislation that amplified police discretion in the first moments of detention and in the investigations phase and also suspended precautionary measures.

Each local government regulates the use of its public land for burials.  Many departments (equivalent to states) allow the services and rites of all religions in their public cemeteries.

The INDDHH, an autonomous branch of the parliament, and the MEC’s CHRXD enforce government compliance with antidiscrimination laws.  Both organizations receive complaints of discrimination, conduct investigations, and issue rulings on whether discrimination occurred.  These rulings include a recommendation on whether cases should receive a judicial or administrative hearing.  Only the courts or the Ministry of Labor may sanction or fine for discrimination.  The INDDHH and the CHRXD provide free legal services to complainants.

A correctional authority protocol regulates religious issues in prisons, including standardizing access for religious officials and religious meeting spaces.  Several prisons in the country have a dedicated space for religious practices.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in public schools.  Public schools close on some Christian holidays.  In deference to its secular nature, the government does not refer to holidays by their Christian names.  Students belonging to non-Christian or minority religious groups may be absent from school on their religious holidays without penalty.  Private schools run by religious organizations may decide which religious holidays to observe.

For religious workers to work in the country, they must provide certification from their church to confirm the identity of the applicant and to guarantee financial support.  According to regulations, the state must enforce these standards equitably across all religious groups.

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

Government Practices

The CHRXD report covering incidents of discrimination during the year included one complaint relating to freedom of conscience and religion; in 2017 there was also one complaint.  The INDDHH reported two incidents of discrimination on religious grounds in its 2017 report; there was one complaint the previous year.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs managed the System for the Monitoring of Recommendations, an interagency, computer-based tool to monitor and report on human rights issues, including discrimination based on religion.

A judge sentenced four gasoline station employees working in Montevideo to four to six months of probation for physically and psychologically attacking a colleague with learning disabilities in June on religious and racial grounds.  The individuals physically beat the victim while his hands were tied and at one point positioned him in a crucifixion pose.  Capturing the event on video, his attackers mocked his religion, sang religious songs to him, and stuck tape to his forehead in the form of a cross.  His attackers also said “this is how we treat black people in Uruguay.”  Civil society organizations criticized the sentence as being too lenient for the crime.  The four individuals were fired and charged with aggravated violence and hate crimes after they confessed in an abbreviated trial under the country’s new accusatory system.  The station owner filed the complaint after he saw viral footage of the attack on social media.

In January media reported the owner of a youth hostel denied two young Jewish travelers from Israel entry into his hostel in Barra de Valizas, Rocha Department.  The hostel owner said they were “not welcome in his home” because he was “opposed to the political situation” in Israel.  The Central Israeli Committee of Uruguay immediately issued a statement condemning the incident as an anti-Semitic act and calling for sanctions.  The Ministry of Tourism issued a statement saying the incident contravened the country’s reputation as a country open to receiving individuals from around the world and referred the report to the interagency antidiscrimination committee.  The committee acknowledged the case as a discriminatory act.  A legislator filed a report with the Prosecutor General’s Office branch in Rocha Department to open an investigation.  The governor of Rocha said the hostel was issued a demolition notice since it was not registered and did not have the proper authorizations.  The Prosecutor General’s Office said the incident was an isolated case and was due to the tourists’ national origin, not their religion.  The Central Israeli Committee, however, responded that it was a case of discrimination based on both nationality and religion.

Government officials made several public statements and wore attire that some Catholic leaders considered to be disparaging of their beliefs and of the practices of the Catholic Church.  In July a local government official in Montevideo tweeted a message to promote the use of protection against HIV/AIDS, saying, “Fewer rosaries on the ovaries and more sexual and reproductive health, seriously.”  Catholic Church members expressed alarm about the official’s tweet and expressed their concerns on social media.  Local government authorities requested the official retract the tweet and offer a public apology, which the official did.  In September State Health Administration Services Director Pablo Cabrera participated in the government’s annual Diversity March wearing a Catholic cardinal’s traditional attire in what some participants said was a mockery of religion.  The Catholic Church, the President’s Human Rights Office, and several opposition legislators condemned the behavior.

Media reported in November Minister of Education Maria Julia Munoz called evangelical Protestant churches “the plague that grows” in a WhatsApp group.  Deputy of the National Party Alvaro Dastugue denounced Munoz for having a “xenophobic and discriminatory position.”  A member of the evangelical Protestant bench of parliament said he would ask President Vazquez to remove the minister.

In June the government officially declared March 19 as the date to annually commemorate secularism in the country, in accordance with a parliamentary law passed in 2017.  Parliament said celebrating secularism was an element of the country’s identity, embedded in the constitution and contributing to religious tolerance in society.  Differing interpretations of the term “secularism” continued to lead to disagreements on the state’s role in enforcing the country’s secularism laws.  In October an opposition party criticized Governor of Salto Department Andres Lima for receiving a blessing from an evangelical Protestant pastor in his office; his own party also criticized him.  One legislator said that “Uruguay should not allow any religion to invade official government offices” and that Governor Lima should be held accountable for his lack of respect for the country’s policy on secularism.  Some members of Catholic and evangelical Protestant groups said government stances on sex education, gender, and abortion threatened their freedom of speech and the right to practice their religion.

Religious organizations said they welcomed opportunities for direct dialogue with the government on religious freedom; however, they reported there were few or no formal channels of communication with the government to raise concerns or discuss initiatives related to religious freedom.  Religious leaders noted that the national government did not actively convene an interfaith dialogue, but some local government officials supported interfaith events through in-kind donations, financial contributions, or participation in events.  Minority religious groups such as Baha’is, Muslims, Anglicans, Methodists, and the Church of Jesus Christ reported no cases of government-based discrimination or intolerance.  They continued, however, to state the government demonstrated more interest in other religious groups, particularly Christian and Jewish groups.

According to press reports, decisions on the installation of religious monuments in public places continued to generate tensions between religious authorities and the government, as well as among different political parties.  In October opposition council members of the Cerro Largo Department opposed the governor’s installation of a Bible monument, because they stated it violated secularism and did not go through the proper channels of approval.  During the year, local governments allowed the public placement of other statues and monuments of a religious nature.  By year’s end, the government had not yet made a decision on how to dispose of an 800-pound bronze Nazi eagle and swastika from a German World War II cruiser scuttled in Montevideo harbor following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

In May the government approved a request from the Muslim community to provide a space encompassing 360 square feet to accommodate 20 Islamic graves in the public North Cemetery in Montevideo.  In June the Canelones Department government agreed to establish the country’s first Islamic cemetery next to the public Soca Cemetery, with a total area of 27,000 square feet.

The government organized workshops throughout the year to raise awareness of societal discrimination and promote tolerance, including related to religion.  In March to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the INDDHH expressed its commitment to implement programs and training to eradicate discriminatory practices in society and promote respect for human rights including freedom of religion.  During Diversity Month in September, the government committed to strengthening antidiscrimination public policies and promoting tolerance.  The government organized a week of workshops to raise awareness on all forms of societal discrimination and promote tolerance.  A portion of the event was specifically dedicated to democracy, secularism, and human rights.  As part of Diversity Month, the government premiered a film titled Faith in Resistance, which documented religion during the 1973-85 dictatorship era in the country.  The film was produced with support from the government and civil society organizations.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported activities to commemorate the Holocaust.  Parliament organized a special session in January to honor Holocaust victims.  Also in January the government issued a nationally broadcast message commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The “Shoah Project,” an online educational tool on the Holocaust, had its annual contest during the year for high school students to raise awareness of Holocaust resistance fighters and of the continuing need to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 22-24, approximately 400 participants, including professionals in politics, education, and social issues, as well as evangelical Protestant leaders, attended the Regional South American Congress for Life and Family in Punta del Este.  Media reported the congress highlighted the danger of losing the freedom of conscience, religious freedom, and freedom of speech in the seven countries represented.  Media also reported a church in Montevideo that supported the congress was vandalized on November 23 with what they said were satanic symbols and pro-LGBT signs as well as paintings saying “no to the fascist congress.”  The congress responded by “expressing our clearest repudiation of the acts of violence and intimidation performed by gender ideology activists against the Iglesia Mision Vida and the Uruguayan Christian Association of Health Professionals.”

Media reported that on March 8, masked women wearing witch hats vandalized a Catholic church with red paint bombs during a march commemorating International Women’s Day.  Some protesters chanted “remove your rosaries from our ovaries” and “remove your doctrine from our vaginas” to express disagreement with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and birth control.  A priest from the church said he debated whether or not to file a report, remarking that “in previous instances when we have filed a report – nothing happened.”  The Archbishop of Montevideo, civil society groups, and the INDDHH condemned the attack.  In April after a second church was vandalized with red paint bombs and small fire bombs, the church filed a police report.

Media reported that in October unknown individuals vandalized areas of the city of Melo’s Constitution Plaza in the department of Cerro Largo.  The individuals painted swastikas on structures and on national symbols within the plaza.  The INDDHH quickly condemned the act, expressing concern and calling for a “culture of respect.”  Local authorities took immediate measures to remove the graffiti.

Jewish leaders reported acts of anti-Semitism, including verbal harassment and aggressive behavior toward Jews.  Representatives of some minority religious groups, including Baha’is, Anglicans, Methodists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, stated that society’s lack of knowledge and understanding of their religious beliefs sometimes led to acts of intolerance and discrimination.  They informally expressed interest in including information about the different religions that coexist in the country and their contributions to society as part of the school curriculum.

Jewish, Catholic, and Afro-Umbandist representatives reported continued comments and activities in media and on social media sites disparaging their religious beliefs and practices.  In April Catholic Cardinal Daniel Sturla made comments in a Busqueda magazine article about the Afro-Umbandist religion, stating that the macumba (a pejorative word used to describe black magic) is negative, damaging, psychedelic, and diabolical.  Afro-Umbandist representative Mae Susana Andrade responded with a public letter in the press saying the cardinal offended African religions and that what was really diabolical was the number of cases of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, including in the country.

The Zionist Organization of Uruguay presented the 2018 Jerusalem Prize to the former head of the Supreme Court, Jorge Chediak, for his work to promote and defend the human rights of Jews and encourage peaceful coexistence among persons of different beliefs.  The annual prize recognizes a prominent national figure, typically a representative from government or academia.

A Pew Research Center study released during the year indicated 29 percent of adults believed religion was very important in their lives.

The national chapter of The International Council of Christians and Jews celebrated its 60th anniversary, reflecting on its efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, tolerance, and coexistence in the country.

The Board for Interfaith Dialogue, a group of representatives from different religious groups and spiritual expressions, including Brahma Kumaris, the Church of Jesus Christ, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and Baha’is, continued to promote interfaith understanding and foster respect for religious diversity through expanding opportunities for dialogue.  During the year, the board organized forums open to the general public to promote religious freedom and human rights.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or public order.  A 1964 concordat governs relations between the government and the Holy See and provides for government funding for Catholic Church-run schools.  In 2017 the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which the opposition and much of the international community considers illegitimate, passed an antihate law criminalizing acts of incitement to hatred or violence.  Individuals who violate the law face 10 to 20 years in prison.  The law includes 25 articles that stipulate a wide array of directives, restrictions, and penalties.  The law criminalizes political party activities promoting “fascism, intolerance, or hatred” regarding numerous factors, including religion.  It also criminalizes individual acts promoting violence or hatred, the publication or transmission of any messages promoting violence or hatred by any media outlet, and the publication of messages promoting violence or hatred on social media.  Among the violations are those committed by individuals or media outlets, including by members of religious groups or media associated with a religious group.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace (MOI) maintains a registry of religious groups, disburses funds to religious organizations, and promotes awareness and understanding among religious communities.  Each religious group must register with the DJR to acquire legal status as a religious organization.  Registration requires declaration of property belonging to the religious group, identification of any religious authorities working directly for the group, and articles of incorporation.  The government requires religious groups to demonstrate how they will provide social services to their communities and to receive a letter of acceptance from the government-controlled community council in the neighborhood(s) where the group will work.  The MOI reviews applications and may delay approval indefinitely.  Religious groups must register any new statutes with the DJR.

The law neither prohibits nor promotes religious education in public schools.  An unenforced 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allows catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.

The law provides for Catholic chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholics serving in the military.  There are no similar provisions for other religious groups.

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

Government Practices

CEV and other Catholic Church leaders and ECV representatives said the government continued to retaliate against church leaders and clergy members who made statements critical of the government, including by imposing arbitrary registration requirements, threatening and detaining clergy, and denying religious visas to foreign visiting clergy.

CEV representatives reported a woman, characterized by media as a government sympathizer, had attacked Father Miguel Acevedo during a Mass on February 2 at Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria parish in Caracas.  According to witnesses, the woman interrupted Acevedo’s homily, shouted insults at Acevedo, and then rushed toward him in an attempt to hit him.  Church personnel disrupted her attack.

Catholic Church leaders said President Maduro ordered criminal investigations of two bishops for violating the 2017 antihate law after they delivered homilies highlighting hunger and government corruption.  Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe, Yaracuy State, which is associated with the Barquisimeto Archdiocese in Lara State, asked during his January 14 homily that the “Divine shepherdess free Venezuela of the curse of political corruption that has led to moral, economic, and social ruin.”  During the homily, Basabe referred to the country’s crisis, stating, “Thousands of Venezuelans rummage through garbage searching for scraps to satisfy their hunger.”  In a separate homily the same day, Archbishop of Barquisimeto Antonio Lopez Castillo urged the “Divine shepherdess to free us from hunger; free us from corruption.”  In his State of the Union speech the following day, President Maduro called for the attorney general to investigate Bishop Basabe and Archbishop Lopez Castillo for instigating “hate with the intent to generate confrontation, violence, death, exclusion, and persecution.”

Lopez Castillo reported to news media that on January 19, Bolivarian National Intelligence Service officials detained him after Mass, then released him after an interview and threatened that if he persisted in speaking against the Maduro government, they would charge him with violating the antihate law.  On January 16, the CEV issued a statement denouncing the investigation order against Lopez Castillo and Basabe.  The CEV said the antihate law, promulgated by the ANC, was “conceived to criminalize all that upsets the government and its views.”  Neither Basabe nor Lopez Castillo was charged.  While CEV leaders reported Lopez Castillo had received no further threats, on October 9, progovernment Lara State legislators declared Basabe “persona non grata,” which then Governor Carmen Melendez endorsed.  Legislators and Governor Melendez cited Basabe’s January 14 homily as the reason.  CEV leaders said Basabe remained in his position as apostolic administrator and no new threats occurred after he was declared persona non grata.

On February 19, the MOI summoned Father Acevedo and Bishop Tulio Luis Ramirez Padilla, Auxiliary Bishop of Caracas, to appear before the court for “inciting hate” during their Mass in Caracas on February 2.  Media reported that according to some of the parishioners, who had interceded on behalf of Acevedo and Ramirez, both were “treated” well and released with a warning.

Catholic leaders said Maria Albarran, a Zulia State government official, brought charges against Father Santiago Dominguez for “instigating hate” during a February 2 Mass over which he presided at the Church of La Consolacion in Maracaibo State.  Albarran stated in media interviews she was offended by Dominguez’ comparison of Venezuelans who left the country to lepers.  CEV leaders reported the government took no further action against Dominguez.

A CEV representative stated the government still had not fulfilled an 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allowing catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.  The same CEV representative said the government had removed catechism from the classroom and at times threatened to sanction principals of schools that attempted to teach it.  The CEV representative said government representatives denied his petition to establish catechism courses in a local public school, violating the CEV agreement permitting schools to teach catechism upon a parent’s request.  He stated the government’s decision violated freedom of religion for parents whose children could not receive catechism locally when there was no available transportation to distant schools where catechism was available.

The ECV said the DJR imposed arbitrary registration requirements on religious groups.  According to the ECV, after several years delay, the MOI approved the ECV’s new registration in March; however, the MOI restricted the number of ECV board members to five, despite previously permitting 15.  ECV leaders said this restriction violated its “freedom to associate,” because the ECV, a network of approximately 1,300 evangelical Protestant churches, needed to assign 15 board members to oversee its 1,300 churches and 650 pastors.  ECV leaders said the limit on board members would leave it vulnerable should the government nullify church statutes made by its nonregistered board members.

According to the ECV, the government retaliated against its organization because it opposed some government policies, including the antihate law, which the ECV leader said repressed religious expression and led to self-censorship.  ECV leaders stated the government denied religious visas to visiting clergy after it held a July 24 church assembly in the city of Valencia.  They said that during the event, a progovernment individual monitoring the assembly approached the pastor of the church in Valencia and said he would report him to government security officials for instigating hate and violating the antihate law.  An ECV representative later stated the government had denied the ECV a religious visa for a pastor planning to travel to the country to lead a national conference.  Regarding the ECV’s distribution of food to needy parishioners, an ECV representative said National Police agents regularly confiscated a portion of food boxes, stating the food was “contraband” and the ECV was selling it for profit.  The ECV representative said a private NGO had donated the food boxes, which ECV personnel would then distribute to needy parishioners.  Clergy said they felt intimidated and frequently were required to give the police agents a portion of the food boxes as a “commission” in exchange for allowing clergy to distribute the remainder.

Jewish leaders stated that to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, government and some progovernment media continued to replace the word “Jewish” with “Zionist.”  During his September 9 television broadcast, ANC President Diosdado Cabello stated that former Mayor of El Hatillo David Smolansky was leading a political project to impose a “Zionist Venezuela” in response to Smolansky’s designation to lead an OAS working group on the migratory crisis in Venezuela.  Cabello categorized Smolansky as a “violent Zionist.”

In September President Maduro compared the situation of migrant Venezuelans to that of “Hitler’s persecution of Jews, resulting in the death of six million Jews.”  Media widely reported that during a September 18 press conference in China, Maduro stated there was an “inquisition campaign” against Venezuelans by “oligarchic media” from Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru, which he likened to Hitler’s persecution of Jews.  He went on to say, “The oligarch media in those countries launched an inquisition campaign that I compare to, excuse me if someone is bothered by my comparison, I compare it to the persecution campaign against the Jewish people that Hitler initiated that ended with six million dead Jews.”  Maduro continued, stating, “Many of the things said against Venezuela and Venezuelans in those countries are similar to what was said of the Jews, the Venezuelans are guilty of this, this, this and Venezuelans are guilty of everything.”

CAIV representatives stated the government supported anti-Semitic media.  In February progovernment television outlet Venezolana de Television (VTV) broadcast an interview with Walter Martinez, a political analyst.  During the interview, Martinez said media companies, including Warner Music, CNN, and HBO Ole, whose artists call to “Free Venezuela,” are manipulated by Zionism.  Martinez said, “Judaism has been hijacked by Zionism.”  CAIV representatives said this incident was typical of the government’s anti-Semitic leanings.

On February 2, Roberto Hernandez Montoya, moderator of government-owned VTV television and the Radio Nacional de Venezuela radio program, retweeted, “Capriles is a Zionist agent menial slave of the Empire, who is nothing more than a political corpse who belongs in the [expletive]-hole of history and never shall a repulsive idiot like him (that did military service in Israel) be elected as president of the Bolivarian people.”  A prominent Venezuelan opposition politician and practicing Catholic of Jewish ancestry, Henrique Capriles was a presidential candidate in 2012 and 2013.

CAIV’s president stated that CAIV leadership made a concerted effort to maintain communication with the government to avoid escalating tensions.  He said Delcy Rodriguez, the country’s vice president, had cooperated with requests to import kosher products essential to Jewish religious practices.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

CAIV representatives said many citizens and government officials continued to believe members of the Jewish community maintained direct lines of communication with the White House and placed U.S. interests above those of Venezuela, which made them concerned their community could become targets of anti-Semitic acts.  On June 6, after the United States announced it would to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, pro-Palestinian groups accompanied by progovernment representatives protested the decision.  Media interviewed protesters in Caracas who proclaimed they repudiated Zionism and supported the Palestinian cause.  Some members of the Jewish community stated this protest was an example of the use of anti-Zionism to mask anti-Semitism.  The CEV, CAIV, and Muslim League continued to meet informally, holding periodic interreligious panels, including a discussion on differences and similarities among Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future