Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 14, 2015

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Executive SummaryShare    

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s faith freely. The government continued its investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center. In March a court ruled the government’s agreement with Iran to investigate the case jointly was unconstitutional; the government appealed the decision. Senior government officials publicly criticized the Jewish community on occasion.

There were violent incidents, including desecration of graves, destruction of religious groups’ property, and an attack on a religious leader and a member of his congregation. Cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment included messages posted on websites, graffiti, verbal slurs, and other forms of harassment.

The Charge d’Affaires and U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed religious freedom with the government as well as with community leaders. Embassy representatives attended events organized by religious groups that addressed religious freedom and promoted interfaith awareness and appreciation.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 43 million (July 2014 estimate). National census data does not track religious affiliation and reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research centers, and religious leaders vary. Roman Catholics constitute between 70 and 92 percent of the population. Atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious affiliation constitute approximately 11 percent of the population, and Pentecostals constitute approximately 8 percent. The Jewish and Muslim populations are the largest in Latin America: the Jewish population is approximately 250,000-300,000 and the Muslim population is estimated to be between 450,000 and one million. Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) each total less than 5 percent of the population. Evangelical Protestant communities, particularly Pentecostals, are growing in size.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the right to profess and to practice one’s faith freely.

The Secretariat of Worship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship manages relations between the government and the Catholic Church and administers the registration of non-Catholic religious groups. The secretariat maintains offices in 10 provinces, including seven offices in Buenos Aires Province.

By law, the government “sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic 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.

Non-Catholic groups can register with the Secretariat of Worship. Registration is not compulsory, but allows religious groups to receive tax-exempt status, apply for visas for religious officials, hold public activities, and receive other benefits. The new Civil and Commercial Code adopted in October (taking effect January 1, 2015) allows non-Catholic religious groups to register as religious groups with similar benefits to Catholics; under prior laws, non-Catholic groups had to register as civic associations. To register, religious groups are required to have a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy, among other provisions. Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those in homes, but is sometimes necessary in order to conduct activities in public spaces pursuant to local regulations. For example, city authorities may require groups to obtain permits to use public parks for public activities, and they may require the religious group be registered with the secretariat to receive the permit. Once an organization is registered, it must report to the secretariat any significant changes or decisions made regarding its leadership, governing structure, size of membership, address of headquarters, or other relevant information. The government has recognized over 5,000 non-Catholic religious groups.

Foreign religious officials of registered religious groups can apply for a separate category of visa to enter the country. The length of the visa can vary 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.

By law public education is secular. 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 churches, synagogues, and mosques operate private schools.

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. The agency also supports victims of religious discrimination and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination.

Government Practices

The government continued its investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA community center in Buenos Aires City that killed 85 persons. The lead federal prosecutor continued to seek the arrest of eight Iranians for reported involvement. In May a court ruled that the 2013 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the government and Iran to jointly investigate the AMIA case was unconstitutional, following a challenge from AMIA and the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA). The government appealed the ruling and continued to negotiate with Iran on the specifics of the agreement’s implementation. Jewish community representatives and opposition political leaders criticized the government for engaging in what they described as a fruitless dialogue and stated the MOU could undermine the country’s existing judicial investigation. During her State of the Republic speech in March and again in her address before the UN General Assembly in September, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in part blamed the Jewish community, Iran, political opponents, and others for the stalled investigation. Jewish community leaders responded that President Fernandez de Kirchner was turning “victims into victimizers.” The MOU remained in effect. Fernandez de Kirchner has not attended the annual AMIA memorial in recent years, including the 20th anniversary commemoration in July.

President Fernandez de Kirchner held meetings with leaders from various local religious groups throughout the year. For the first time in eight years, she attended the annual Te Deum Mass at the National Cathedral that launched the May 25 Revolution Day celebrations. On April 8, she announced the construction of a memorial for Holocaust victims in Buenos Aires.

The foreign minister, the secretary of worship, the Buenos Aires director general for religious affairs, and other government representatives hosted and attended religious freedom conferences, interreligious dialogues, rabbinical ordinations, and Rosh Hashanah, iftar, and Eid al-Fitr celebrations, as well as other religious activities including those held by Protestant and Orthodox Churches throughout the year.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

On October 21, unknown assailants fired multiple shots at Marcelo Nieva, a Baptist pastor, and Daniel Carreno, a member of his church, in Rio Tercero, Cordoba Province. Neither was injured in the attack. Nieva, the Argentinian Evangelical Baptist Convention, and the Association of Evangelical Baptist Churches of the Province of Cordoba issued a joint statement in which they said that criminal groups targeted Nieva because of his social work, particularly with victims of sex trafficking and gender-based violence. A federal court ordered federal guards to protect Nieva and his church; Nieva’s lawyer, however, expressed concern that the protective measures would not be enough and called for a full investigation into the incident.

On October 31, vandals broke into the Our Lady of Fatima church in Olavarria, Buenos Aires Province. The vandals destroyed confessionals, pews, windows, and other items and set fire to the altar; the fire spread to the sacristy. Police began an investigation the next morning. The police stated the attackers left blood stains on the walls and fingerprints on many of the liturgical items.

On December 8, approximately 12 graves were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Santiago del Estero Province’s capital of the same name. Vandals destroyed tombstones, uprooted monuments, and littered the graves. Police began an investigation and a complaint was filed with INADI.

DAIA received 236 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2013, the most recent data available, representing a 3 percent decrease compared to 2012. The most commonly reported incidents were anti-Semitic messages posted on websites, anti-Semitic graffiti, verbal slurs, and other forms of harassment. Approximately 45 percent of the incidents involved Nazi symbolism.

Cases of anti-Semitism increased in conjunction with the conflict in Gaza. On July 24, U.S. and Israeli flags altered to include swastikas were found in the city center of Rio Quarto, Cordoba Province. On July 15, vandals painted swastikas and slogans reading “Out of Gaza” on the front of the Jewish Cultural Center in Mendoza.

A report released in April by INADI described ongoing stigmatization of Muslims based on stereotypes of Islamic fundamentalism. For example, the Islamic Center of Argentina filed a complaint in 2013 with INADI after a television presenter described Islamic soccer players as “Muslims who throw bombs.”

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

In meetings with government officials, U.S. embassy officials discussed the status of the AMIA case as well as anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. On June 5, embassy officials attended an event at the National University of San Martin, announcing the creation of a new major in Islamic culture that was co-hosted by the Secretariat of Worship and the NGO Islamic Institute for Peace.

On July 18, the Charge d’Affaires attended the 20th anniversary commemoration of the AMIA bombing, hosted by the organization, and made a public statement. Speakers at the event focused many of their comments on criticism of the government’s MOU with Iran. On September 11, the U.S. embassy and AMIA co-hosted a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The Charge d’Affaires spoke about how the support of religious communities was an essential part of attaining justice and countering terrorism.

Embassy officials met periodically with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom and incidents of religious discrimination. Embassy officials attended events organized by religious groups and NGOs that addressed religious freedom and promoted interfaith awareness and appreciation.