- Population: 44,938,712
- Main Language: Spanish
- Official Religion: None
- Main Religion: Predominantly Christian and majority Catholic Christians
- Other Religions: Buddhists, ethnoreligionist, Hindus, Judaism, Muslims, among others
- President: Alberto Ángel Fernández (2019 – 2023
*Upcoming elections: On October 24, 2021, will take place the national and provincial legislative elections. Positions of senators and deputies will be renewed.
Argentina is a federal, democratic republic operating with a three-branch government. The president of Argentina is both the head of state and the head of the government who exercises executive power. Legislative power is vested in both the executive branch and the National Congress, while the judiciary is independent of both the executive and the legislature branches.
General Description of the State of Religious Freedom
Currently, the State guarantees religious freedom in a broad range of regulatory provisions. Among them are:
Figure 1: Religious Freedom – Main legal framework
Freedom of religion
|Church and State||Religious
|Rights and duties of parents||Registration|
The constitution of Argentina and the international conventions the state signed guarantee the freedom of religion within its borders. Although the vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic, public education is secular and religious minorities can freely express their faith. Over 5300 non-Catholic organizations are officially recognized by the Argentinian government and have been granted tax-exempt status and other benefits. In recent years, the preferential status of the Catholic Church within the constitution has been criticized. In 2017 and 2019 draft religious freedom bills were sent to congress for its consideration, but were rejected both times. The draft bill would have eliminated the requirement that non-Catholic religious groups have to register with the government to receive the same benefits as the Catholic Church.
The law states that the mandatory curriculum in public schools is secular. However, students may request elective courses of instruction in the religion of their choice, these can be attended at (public) school but also at a religious institution. There are also private schools which are operated by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious groups that receive financial support contingent on registration with the government.
Anti-Semitic violence is rare in Argentina but does occur occasionally. Ariel Gelblung, the Latin America representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, stated the following: ‘Argentina isn’t an anti-Semitic country but has anti-Semitic episodes. Now these episodes are more violent and more frequent.’ One of the latest episodes included violence incidents like the beating of Grand Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, who was violently robbed at home. According to news sources the robbers said that they knew he was the Amia Rabbi. The Grand Rabbi suffered several fractured ribs and a punctured lung. The attack occured just a day after seven Jewish graves were defaced with Nazi symbols in San Luis in western Argentina.
A. Hostility to religious expressions by state and non-state actors
In recent years the criticism towards the Catholic Church in Argentina has grown. An explanation for this increase can be found in the abortion discussion that has been going for a few years now. Argentine women’s groups demand the legalization of abortion while the Catholic Church and pro life organizations have been asking law makers to maintain the illegal status of abortion. During the protests that followed many women were also protesting against femicides. Especially during the COVID-19 lockdown the number of femicides has rapidly increased. Tensions were running high at several protests. This often lead to violence that was targeted at the Catholic Church, which resulted in churches and cathedrals being vandalized. There were even incidents where Christian buildings were set on fire. On December 30, 2020, the Argentinian Senate approved a bill that legalized abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Argentina is also home to over 180,000 Jews (2017), which makes it the largest Jewish population in Latin America. It must also be noted that anti-Semitism still occurs in Argentina, in fact the amount of anti-Semitic incidents is rising. According to a report by the DAIA, a Jewish organization operating in Argentina, there were 834 acts of antisemitism in 2018 compared to 404 reported incidents in 2017. The majority of the incidents occurred online, mostly through social media
B. The regulation of religion by organized crime
In recent years the number of murders and robberies in Argentina has decreased. However, this only applies to Argentina in general and varies per region. In general, churches often suffer from thefts and attacks by small criminal groups. In some cases these robberies turn out to be violent, leading to the dead of parish priests, as has happened to Father Oscar Juárez. On July 15, 2020, he was found dead inside the church of San Martín de Porres, in the capital of the province of Tucumán. According to local sources he has fallen victim to a violent robbery.
Anti-Semitic violence is rare in Argentina but does occur occasionally. Ariel Gelblung, the Latin America representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, stated the4 following: ‘Argentina isn’t an anti-Semitic country but has anti-Semitic episodes. Now these episodes are more violent and more frequent.’ One of the latest episodes included violence incidents like the beating of Grand Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, who was violently robbed at home. According to news sources the robbers said that they knew he was the Amia Rabbi. The Grand Rabbi suffered several fractured ribs and a punctured lung. The attack occured just a day after seven Jewish graves were defaced with Nazi symbols in San Luis in western Argentina.
Religious Freedom and the COVID-19 pandemic
On 3 March 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Argentina. On the 19th of the same month President Alberto Fernández announced that the country would go into lockdown to combat the spread of the virus. The lockdown was extended several times until it was lifted on the 10th of May, excluding the Buenos Aires area where approximately 31.9% population lives. The restrictions for this region were supposed to last until the 24th of May but were extended several times until the 17th of July. On this day President Fernández announced that the measures to combat the virus would be loosened gradually. However, it would take until November before the lockdown in the Buenos Aires area would end and go into a social distancing phase. During Christmas time there was spike in the amount of COVID-19 infections. Due to this development the government decided to impose a night curfew to combat the viral circulation. The curfew lasted from 1 to 6 a.m.
The lockdown in Argentina led to the suspension of worshipping activities. In a country where more than 80% of the population identifies as religious, this had an enormous impact.
Church leaders supported the government’s position for an extended quarantine. Nonetheless, not all religious leaders supported the government’s approach in combatting the virus. In July 2020, an evangelical pastor reopened his church despite the fact that government officials had instructed him not to. The church was located in In Santa Fe, a region with low numbers of contagion. The pastor protested that bars and restaurants in Santa Fe were allowed to open from 7am to 11pm, at up to 30% capacity, while churches could only receive up to 10 people at the same time. The pastor opened the church as a bar to avoid government restrictions.
Despite the lockdown, anti-Semitic incidents still occurred. In the southern city of Neuquen posters blaming Jews for the COVID-19 pandemic appeared. The posters stated “The Jews are the virus” and “Argentines Awake to the World Jewish Dictatorship”. The authorities were unable to arrest any suspects.
Violent Incidents Database
The Violent Incident Database (VID) is a service by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America, designed to collect, record, and analyze violent incidents related to violations of religious freedom.
In many cases, the limitations on religious freedom previously explained have led to violent incidents in the country, both against religious leaders or religious groups, and even against places of worship, among others.
The following cases reported on the platform, illustrate the state of religious freedom in the country:
- Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary vandalized: Prior to an anti-abortion march in Moreno, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary was vandalized. Protestors covered the cathedral in green paint as a protest against the church, which opposes abortion.
- Father Jorge Vaudagna shot and killed: Father Jorge Vaudagna (58), the parish priest of Vicuña Mackenna, a town in the department of Río Cuarto, province of Córdoba, Argentina, was shot in his parish during an attempt of robbery.
- Mapuches forced their way into the Our Lady of Luján Parish: A group of people identified as part of the Mapuche group (an indigenous group in Chile and Argentina) entered the parish of Our Lady of Luján, in El Bolsón. Approximately 12 Mapuche members entered the church by force, beat the priest, and took another member of the congregation hostage for a short period of time. Religious images were also vandalized.
Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Argentina (2018-2019)
|(Attempts) to destroy, vandalize or desecrate places of worship or religious buildings||13||2||13|
|Closed places of worship or religious buildings||0||0||1|
|Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse)||0||1||4|
|Attacked houses/property of faith adherents||0||0||0|
|Attacked shops, businesses or institutions of faith adherents||0||0||0|
|Forced to leave Home||0||0||0|
|Forced to leave Country||0||0||0|
Information and/or data from previous years can be found on our Violent Incidents Database
|World Watch List, Open Doors International (2020)||Private sphere||n.d|
|Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016
Pew Research Center (2018)
|Government Restrictions Index||2.6|
|Social Hostilities Index (SHI)||1.8|
|Government religious preference, Religious Characteristics of States Data Project
Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion (2015)
|Government Religious Preference composite score – preferred religion (PRFGRP)||2.5|
|Government Religious Preference composite score – non-preferred religion (NPRFGRP)||1.5|
|The Main Religion and State Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Official Religion (SAX)||No|
|Official Support (SBX)||Preferred Religion: While the state does not officially endorse a religion, one religion serves unofficially as the state’s religion receiving unique recognition or benefits. Minority religions all receive similar treatment to each other.|
|Religious Discrimination Against Minority Religions (MXX)||9|
|Regulation of and Restrictions on the Majority Religion or All Religions (NXX)||0|
|Specific Types of Religious Support (LXX)||9|
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence against minority religions: General (WSOCDISX2014)||15|
|Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the majority religion (WMIN2MAJX2014)||0|
|Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the other minority religions (WMIN2MINX2014)||0|
|Societal regulation of religion (WSOCREGX2014)||1|
|CIRI Human Rights Data Project (2011)||Freedom of religion (NEW_RELFRE)||2|
|Religion and State-Minorities Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Governmental Discrimination (MMXX2014)
|International Religious Freedom Data
The Association of Religion Date Archives (2008)
|Government Regulation of Religion Index (GRI_08)||1.5|
|Government Favoritism of Religion Index (GFI_08)||8.1|
|Social Regulation of Religion Index (MSRI_08)||4.7|
|Religious Freedom Rating
Hudson Institute (2007)
|Religious Freedom Scale||3|
For more data about the indicators click here.
Public Policy Recommendations
- The government should address the issue concerning indigenous communities by implementing (existing) laws to protect the right of indigenous communities to have access their sacred land and freely profess their faith. Furthermore the government should make more advancements on finishing the survey on indigenous lands, which was required by law in 2006.