News from the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches of the Republic of Argentina

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August 12, 2009

The Commission of Foreign Relations and Religious Groups of the House of Representatives of the Nation began discussions last Wednesday August 5, on a bill called “Ley de libertad religiosa,” (Law of religious freedom), an initiative introduced at the end of 2008 by legislator Cynthia Hotton, head of “Valores para mi Pais” (Values for my Country.)

“For more than 20 years, diverse religious entities have gathered to seek a consensus about the meaning of religious freedom. The beginning of discussions on this initiative is a historical event after years of work and wait,” noted the legislator when explaining about the main scope of the bill. The bill was signed by 12 additional legislators including the head of PRO, Federico Pinedo and the head of Consenso Federal (Federal Consensus) Daniel Katz.Also signing were legislators from FPV, CC, UCR, Frente Justicia Union y Libertad (Front Justice Union and Freedom) and from Concertación (Compromise.) At the same time, before presenting the bill, Hotton consulted extensively with members of different religious groups.

Hotton emphasized that the initiative was written based on several bills developed in recent years by different religious groups as well as an initiative that began its development six years ago in the Secretary’s Office of Religious Groups of the Nation.

In that sense, she stressed that before presenting the bill, an extensive round of discussion was held with all of the religious groups, achieving an absolute consensus regarding the bill’s content. Within this framework, talks were held with Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. After analyzing the document for one month, Monsignor Bergoglio expressed personal satisfaction for its accomplishments and support for the initiative’s discussion.

“The beginning of the legislative proposal’s discussion constitutes a step forward for the diverse religions represented in the country, which currently – apart from the Catholic religion – are not acknowledged formally as churches. They also do not posses the rights attributed by the national Constitution and the international treaties that are part of our internal law,” Hotton said. The current law (21.745) would be replaced by the new bill was enacted in 1977 during the era of the military dictatorship in Argentina.

It should be noted that this proposal includes the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church, acknowledging the entirety of the treaties that the Holy See has signed in our state. Therefore, the equalization of religions that is being promoted does not mean a loss of power for the Catholic Church nor a denial of the rights acquired by it in the National Constitution and on its statutory laws.

The discussions began with the participation of authorities from a diverse group of religious institutions in the country. The talks will continue with rounds of consultations made by the different members of the commission to enrich the bill.

Participants included:

Monsignor Tarasios (Reverent Eminence, Metropolitan Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Major Archbishop of South America)

Doctor Raúl Scialabba (Argentinean Council for Religious Liberty, CALIR)

Pastor Hugo Baravalle (President of the Christian Alliance of the Evangelical Churches of the Republic of Argentina)

Pastor Christian Hooft (Institutional Vice President of the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches of the Republic of Argentina)

Pastor Ciro Crimi (President of the Christian Evangelical Pentecostal Federation)

Pastors Omar y Alejandra Cabrera (Church Future Vision)

Pastor Agustín Marsal (Anglican Church of Devotion) in addition to ecclesiastical authorities.

Main themes of the bill:

The objective of the freedom and religious equality bill is to guarantee the freedom of worship, setting the same conditions for all the religions legally acknowledged in the country. The bill also grants those groups equality of rights and obligations.

The different religious groups acknowledged will have access to exemptions or benefits that the tax laws and the customs office provide for religious institutions; they will also take advantage of protection against seizure of the temples and worship locations, as well as the holy objects used to worship; they will also have the right to use public media in accordance to the current rules; its ministers would have free access to jails, hospitals, homes for the elderly and barracks to offer spiritual assistance, among other rights.

Another central theme in the bill is that through the modification of some of the articles in the Penal Code, it establishes sentences of up to six years in prison for those who impede the regular development of religious acts, or insult or offend ministers of religions included in the initiative. Also, the project favors changes to the Civil Code.

At the same time, a National Registry of Religious Groups will be created where churches, communities and religious groups that develop activities inside the Republic of Argentina’s territory, would be able to register.

Also to be formed will be an Advisory Council of Religious Freedom, directed by the Secretary of Religious Groups, who may represent the religious plurality of the country. The Council will have the following purposes: to give advice about religious freedom, participate in the elaboration of complementary projects, give advice to the National Executive Branch regarding the elaboration of cooperation agreements and to answer consultations made by the Secretary of Religious Groups, among other responsibilities