A school calendar prepared by the general superintendent of schools of the province of Mendoza, Argentina, was denounced last July by Argentine Baptist Association (ABA) as a clear act of discrimination and a lack of respect for the freedom of conscience of non-Catholic students.
The superintendent’s calendar stated that “with the participation of the whole educational community,” July 25 would commemorate the “day of the Holy patron Santiago, guide and Protector of the Mendoza” and Sept. 8 the “day of the Virgin of Carmen de Cuyo.”
A few months later, in mid-September, Judge Judie María Eugenia Ibaceta upheld the ABA’s request and declared the unconstitutionality of the commemoration of religious days in the public schools of Mendoza. The measure, as it is obvious, does not affect confessional religious schools.
The ABA, among other religious organizations which defend human rights – such as CALIR (Consejo Argentino para la Libertad Religiosa) and APDH of San Rafael (Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos) – sent letters requesting the revocation of the instruction given by the general superintendent of schools of the province of Mendoza.
According to Baptists in Argentina, both provisions are not only against what is expressed in the text of the Constitution of the province, which establishes public education as “lay,” but also of the Argentine national constitution as well as international treaties and laws, such as the Law of National Education and Minority.
“By ordering the commemoration of these two school events, the General Superintendent of Schools shows preference to the members of the educational community who profess the Catholic religion and excludes and symbolically restricts the participation of non-Catholics,” the ABA letter said.
“Throughout our rich history of Defense of religious freedom, and, in particular, the separation of Church and State, Baptists have defended the concept of the lay school, understanding that religious education in any of its forms, should not be a part of public education,” the letter said. “As such, a lay school does not favor or attack any religion, neither the one of the majorities, nor any other, i.e., it is neutral in religious and political matters.”
“Christianity brought to the world the respect for the personality, equality and freedom of every person,” the letter said. “If religion is to be taught in schools, it should be done in confessional schools, where there is freedom of teaching the religion of those who confess it. On the other hand, religion should be taught in the home and in the Church.”
“The school of the state is the school of all and for all. In her classrooms are educated the children of the rich and the poor, Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Muslims, indifferent and agnostics. As citizens, parents have equal rights before the law and all pay with their taxes the educational costs.”
“The negative experiences of what used to be compulsory religious education practices in the history of our country should make us seriously aware of provisions such as those we are denouncing, and the inconveniences of insisting with policies that brought division and confrontation rather than understanding and integration,” the letter said.
The letter, dated July 8, 2013, and signed by Raúl Scialabba, ABA president, and Carlos Bollatti, secretary, concluded, “Therefore, we request the revocation of these calendar instructions, since they would give rise to a clear interference by the state over the freedom of conscience of non-Catholic students.”
The response of the judge commanded the Province of Mendoza to “immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that public schools under its jurisdiction not commemorate this year’s Day of the Virgin of Carmen de Cuyo, not allowing either classes to be taught, nor billboards, interviews, video projections or any other activity involving students, teachers and members of the community or other personalities.”
Argentine Baptists are now fighting against a law demanding religious education in public schools in the province of Salta. Their success in Mendoza is giving them extra strength.
Daniel Carro is on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics (EthicsDaily.com), professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va., and first vice president of the Baptist World Alliance (2010-15). He was originally from Argentina.