Remember how controversial the case of Kim Davis was in the United States? As an American clerk working in the state of Kentucky, she was jailed in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, arguing that it went against her religious beliefs and that she was acting “under god’s authority.”
She was released from jail five days later, under the condition that she would not interfere with the efforts of her deputy clerks, who had started issuing marriage licenses to all couples. Her decision prompted national and international debate where the most conservative, bigoted sectors of society came out in support of her refusal to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, but was harshly criticized by the more progressive pundits in the country at the time.
Well, believe it or not, we are set to have a similar debate take place in Argentina. Only this time the government seems to be involved more actively in an attempt to pass a “religious freedom” law which, among many other things, would allow people to echo Kim Davis’ behavior without incurring any legal consequences.
The bill is the result of the consensus reached between the government and entities representing religious communities in Argentina. “It develops the fundamental human right to religious freedom for all citizens and is a historic demand from all religions,” according to the Foreign Ministry’s Secretary of Religion Santiago de Estrada in a statement Infobae. The only thing is, it doesn’t contemplate the negative effects this could — and would — have on the rest of the people who want to exercise their own versions freedom, religious and otherwise.
The section of the project that is poised to cause the most controversy grants people the right to “conscious objection,” arguing that it aims at guaranteeing freedom of religion and conscience in Argentina. Article 7 of the bill indicates that the “State will guarantee — withing the right limits — that both people and institutions will be able to act in their public life according to what their religion demands from them.”
And continues: “from the most elemental, such as being able to celebrate acts of religion, to observing holidays and penance days, divulge with freedom their own truths, exercise ownership of temples, universities, schools and media outlets, provide religious assistance, as well as enjoying organizational autonomy.”
However, here are a couple examples of the other face of the effects this proposal would have, as provided by Infobae and Amnesty International:
- A doctor will be able to refuse to conduct an abortion (the court can approve petitions for abortions under certain circumstances).
- People following certain religions will be able to force their employers to allow them not to work on weekends. According to the bill, employers in both the public and private sector have to adapt (within reason) to the religious practices of their employees. The same would apply to schools regarding its students.
- A teacher would be able to refuse to teach a class about evolution if it clashes with their religious beliefs.
- It endangers the integral sexual education law since teachers would also be allowed to limit their teaching on the matter based on their religious beliefs.
- A clerk or civil registry worker could refuse to marry a homosexual couple, violating the right to equality and non-discrimination.
- A health insurance company could refuse to provide birth control, even if they are legally obliged to, violating people’s sexual and reproductive rights.
The bill’s only requirement? For the belief to be “sincere,” presuming they are objecting to doing things in good faith, following their religious norms.
The project’s effects would be felt more intensely in the less populated areas of the country. What would a gay couple wanting to get married in a small town or city where there’s one or a few civil registries do? Or a non-religious student who only has the possibility to attend a certain school because the other ones are far away?
The bill still hasn’t been sent to the floor, but already has started causing repercussions from both sides of the political spectrum. In a press release, Amnesty International Argentina provided some of the aforementioned examples and stated that, while the organization “promotes and defends the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” this law is far from strengthening a secular State, and seeks to “favor a multi-religious state, with a strong influence of religions in the exercise of people’s rights and what’s public.”
“Individuals have the right to both profess a religion and not. But the bill seems to forget about, and leave unprotected, a whole the universe of people who decided to not profess a religion,” says Amnesty’s Executive Director Mariela Belski in an open letter to President Mauricio Macri.
For Santiago de Estrada, however, the new law “promotes the values that Pope Francis predicates around the world, such as respecting diversity, religious freedom and dialogue.”
In an op-ed published in Télam, Pastor Rubén Proietti, president of the Christian alliance of Evangelical Churches of Argentina, chose to ignore this issue and instead highlighted other aspects of the bill, which would grant benefits to religious entities that only the Catholic Church has at the present.
We can expect the debate about this questionable project to only get more heated as its path through Congress puts it under the spotlight, considering that, should it become law, would directly affect numerous aspects of a citizens’ daily life, and the particular cases illustrating the predictable ideological clashes would multiply by the day. We’ll see how it goes.