U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2005 - Argentina

Covers the period from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. However, the Constitution states that the Federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith," and the Government provides it some privileges not available to other religions or denominations.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, discrimination, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, continued to occur. There were a number of governmental and nongovernmental efforts to reduce discrimination and promote interfaith understanding.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 1,068,302 square miles, and its population is approximately 37 million, according to the most recent census, taken in 2001. The Government does not collect information on religious affiliation. Accurate estimates of religious affiliation are difficult to obtain; however, information supplied by the National Registry of Religions and representatives of various faiths, as well as statistics from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), produce the following estimates, which do not necessarily imply active religious practice: Catholics, 70 percent of the population; Protestants, 9 percent; Muslims, 1.5 percent; Jews, 0.8 percent; other religious groups, 2.5 percent; and the remainder, no declared religious affiliation. Available estimates often are based on outdated census data and questionable presumptions. Although there is a presumption that persons of Middle Eastern origin are Muslim, the Islamic Center in Argentina estimates that only one out of three Middle Eastern immigrants is Muslim, especially those of Syrian or Lebanese origin, whereas the majority are Orthodox Catholic. Muslims total 500,000 to 600,000 persons; Middle Eastern immigrants also include smaller groups of Mennonites and Melchites.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Constitution grants all residents the right "to profess their faith freely" and states that foreigners enjoy all the civil rights of citizens, including the right "to exercise their faith freely."

The Constitution states that the federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith," and the Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies. The Secretariat of Worship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship is responsible for conducting the Government's relations with the Catholic Church, non-Catholic Christian churches, and other religious organizations in the country.

The Secretariat of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,900 religious organizations representing approximately 30 religious groups and denominations. Religious organizations that wish to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat and report periodically to maintain their status. Possession of a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy are among the criteria the Secretariat considers in determining whether to grant or withdraw registration. Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those conducted in homes, but it is necessary for any public activities. Registered religious organizations may bring in foreign missionaries by applying to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities so that appropriate documents may be issued. There were no reports from any groups that their affiliated foreign missionaries were denied visas.

Public education is secular. However, students may request instruction in the faith of their choice, which can be conducted in school or at a religious institution. Many churches and synagogues operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an independent agency of the Government, nominally under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice (a March 2005 presidential decree transferred jurisdiction of INADI from Interior to Justice), is charged with promoting social and cultural pluralism and combating discriminatory attitudes (see Section III). INADI, which includes representatives of the major religious faiths on its board, investigates violations of a 1988 law that prohibits discrimination based on "race, religion, nationality, ideology, political opinion, sex, economic position, social class, or physical characteristics," and it conducts educational programs. The agency also supports victims and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination, which include developing a national plan to combat discrimination. In 2004, INADI received complaints of nine incidents – seven anti-Semitic and two anti-Islamic – that it determined were discriminatory based on religious reasons.

In March 2005, INADI found that Military Chaplain General Bishop Antonio Baseotto violated anti-discrimination laws with "pejorative and unfavorable" comments he made during a service on a military base in October 2004, in which he criticized Muslim immigration in Europe.

This same bishop created a rift between the Government and the Vatican when, on February 17, 2005, he sent a letter to Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia stating that those who "offend the little ones should have a millstone placed around their neck and be cast into the sea." This sentiment – a biblical reference – was meant to express the bishop's opposition to Health Ministry policies favoring the promotion of contraceptive distribution and the Minister's statements calling for the decriminalization of abortion. For the Government, the bishop's comments were too reminiscent of the notorious "death flights" used by the military government of the late 1970s and early 1980s to dispose of leftist guerillas and alleged sympathizers. The Government called for the bishop's immediate removal as Chaplain General, a position appointed by the Vatican. The Vatican refused and the Government unilaterally removed its recognition of Baseotto as Chaplain General, which led various Church authorities to make allegations of a campaign against Catholics. At the end of the period covered by this report, the Government and the Vatican had not resolved the issue.

INADI continued to study the case of Buenos Aires city government legislator Mirta Onega, who was caught on tape in 2004 using pejorative language in referring to a subordinate Jewish employee. The city legislature formed a special investigative commission that recommended a 180-day suspension for Onega, but there were insufficient votes in the plenary session to sanction the legislator. The case was pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

The Secretariat of Worship sought to promote religious harmony by sending official representatives to events such as religious freedom conferences, rabbinical ordinations, Rosh Hashana and Eid al-Fitr celebrations, and religious activities held by Protestant and Orthodox churches.

Three Christian holy days are observed as national holidays: Good Friday, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas. In addition, the law provides for 3 days of excused and paid leave for those observing the Jewish holy days of New Year, the Days of Atonement, and Passover, and also for those observing the Islamic holy days of the Muslim New Year.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, the Government provides the Catholic Church with some subsidies not available to other religious groups. These subsidies, estimated at approximately $4 million per annum, are administered by the Secretariat of Worship. They have been described as compensation for expropriation of properties that belonged to Catholic institutions in the colonial era.

A number of non-Catholic Christian organizations have questioned the constitutionality of the National Registry for Religions and have taken issue with regulations requiring prior approval from the Government to establish churches, the need to provide police checks for church officials, and the need for each new branch of a registered church to register separately and undergo what they claim to be redundant bureaucratic requirements. In the second half of 2004 and again in February 2005, the Federation of Argentine Evangelical Churches raised the issue with the Foreign Ministry's Secretary of Worship and submitted a number of suggestions to the Secretary for amending or abolishing the requirements. At the end of the period covered by this report, the Secretary had not made a final decision on the federation's suggestions.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

In September 2004, the 3-judge panel of Federal Oral Court No. 3 acquitted all 22 Argentine defendants charged in connection with the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center, in which 85 persons were killed. The panel faulted the investigation of the original judge and prosecutors and called for an investigation into the handling of that investigation and trial. Criminal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral reconfirmed the validity of international arrest warrants against 12 Iranian citizens (including the former Iranian ambassador to Argentina at the time of the attack) and a Lebanese citizen implicated in the attack.

There were no developments in the investigation of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, religious discrimination, particularly anti-Semitism, remained a problem. NGOs actively promoted interfaith understanding. Ecumenical attendance was common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration.

NGOs promoting religious fraternity include the Argentine Jewish-Christian Brotherhood (an affiliate of the International Council of Christians and Jews), the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom, the Foundation for Education for Peace, and the Federation of Arab Entities (Latin America), known as FEARAB. Cooperation has been particularly notable between FEARAB (Latin America), representing Muslims and Christians of Arab origin; the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina; and the Delegation of Israeli Argentine Associations (DAIA), the political representation of Argentine Jewry, to prevent religious tensions stemming from political conflicts in the Middle East.

Most published reports of anti-religious acts concerned anti-Semitic activity, although there were also reports of isolated anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts. INADI worked to combat religious discrimination and other forms of intolerance (see Section II).

A number of reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents appeared during the period covered by this report. In its annual study on anti-Semitism in the country, the DAIA Center for Social Studies found a total of 174 anti-Semitic incidents in 2004, a figure similar to those of previous years. The report also highlighted discrimination against other groups, including anti-Muslim acts. Among the anti-Semitic incidents noted were the Onega case (see Section II), anti-Semitic expressions against a rabbi during a lecture at the National University of Entre Rios, and vandalism of Jewish buildings and cemeteries. The DAIA report also highlighted a number of positive events and actions, such as the Government's denial of legal status to the New Triumph Party, a right-wing nationalist group of anti-Semitic activists headed by Alejandro Biondini that frequently posted anti-Semitic comments on its website.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. During the period covered by this report, Embassy officers met periodically with various religious leaders and attended events organized by faith-based organizations and NGOs that addressed questions of religious freedom.

The Embassy continued to provide support for the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing. For example, the legal attaché continued to respond to investigative leads in the AMIA case from the federal court charged with the terrorism inquiry.

The Embassy also continued to assist the Government's implementation of a Holocaust Education Project, conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force.


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