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Religious Liberty in the Americas (1 of 2)

ICC Note:

This is the first in a multi-part series evaluating the condition of religious freedom around the world from a Catholic perspective. Though it does not address the conditions of religious freedom for all Christians, it provides valuable insight into a part of the church not often seen.

Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need (07/24/06) – Here is an adapted excerpt from a 2006 report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need on religious freedom worldwide. Subsequent excerpts will appear in the coming days.

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United States

In the United States , the debate involving the conflict between two different ideas of the separation or distinction between religion and the state institutions is played out at the level of civil and individual rights.

The conflict between American society and the Islamic communities is no exception. The latter complain of attacks against their places of meeting and prayer. They pursue legal paths in their attempts to introduce Koranic law into the legal system as has happened in Canada .


In spite of reconciliation efforts, the murder and violence inflicted by FARC and ELN terrorists on religious exponents continues in Colombia .

Venezuela and Cuba

There appears to be increased tension between the state and the Catholic Church in Venezuela , while the socialist ideals inspiring the Cuban regime greatly reduce educational and social opportunities for free evangelization.

The Catholic Church’s overall situation remains unchanged in Cuba . Although at least at a national level over recent months the authorities’ attitude toward the Church has improved, it still operates within a situation that is objectively a difficult one.

Furthermore, throughout Latin America numerous pro-abortion associations and powerful centers for demographic control are launching an open challenge against pro-life culture, approving laws going against natural and Christian rights.


The Argentinian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and decrees that the federal government “supports the faith of the Roman Apostolic Church .” During 2005 no significant institutional changes were reported and the government contributes to the overall respect of religious freedom.

The government — as requested by many — is assessing the possibility of abolishing compulsory public registration for religious groups. The law currently establishes that churches and religious groups must register with the Secretariat for Cults just like nongovernmental organization, and this provision, decreed during the military dictatorship, does not concern the Catholic Church.

Tension and disagreements were reported in February in relations between the government and the Holy See concerning events involving Bishop Antonio Baseotto, the military chaplain general. The Church also spoke out openly against the government’s decision to liberalize abortion in all circumstances.

In the course of the year a number of anti-Semitic attacks were reported as well as some against Muslims. In its yearly report on anti-Semitism, the Center for Social Studies reported 174 acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries, as well as verbal offenses and threats over the Internet addressed to Jewish institutions.


In Bolivia too the constitution recognizes freedom of worship and the government respects this right.

The good relations existing between the various religious groups present in the country guarantee an atmosphere of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Mennonites, Mormons, Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists and many other evangelical groups maintain a significant number of missionaries who implement widespread proselytizing activities.


Brazil is experiencing a very conflictual moment between the Church and the government concerning abortions laws. In a document, the episcopal conference expressed “total disagreement with the draft laws attempting to decriminalize abortion” in the country, referring to legislation currently under discussion addressed at acknowledging for women the so-called right to abortion.

According to the episcopate, “a draft law allowing the elimination of an innocent and defenseless human being is inadmissible. Any talk of human rights thereby becomes incoherent, since it contradicts itself defending other rights when it denies the primordial right to be born and to live.” In December the bishops launched a public appeal asking the population to strongly protest against this legislation.

On Feb. 12 a 70-year-old American missionary belonging to the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur , Sister Dorothy Stang, was murdered. It appears that the instigators of this murder — which took place near Anapu, in the state of Parà — were a group of “fazendeiros” opposed to the work of this nun, who — as reported by the Missionary Service News Agency — was known for her commitment to the poor.

Led by Edir Bezerra Macero, the neo-Pentecostal Church has reported the highest increase in believers among all existing evangelical churches. It was founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1977, and according to reliable estimates provided by scholars in this sector, it counts more than 2 million believers in Brazil, and over half a million abroad.