Stop the Inquisition in Argentina!
WHAT does the term “Inquisition” call to your mind? For many people, it reminds them of a time centuries ago when people were unjustly denied their right to practice freedom of worship. It also calls to mind the persecution, even torture and murder that went with the Inquisition.
Today, in the eighth decade of this “enlightened” 20th century, we would view such inquisitions as belonging to a “dark ages” mentality. We would like to believe that mankind has advanced well beyond these practices.
But that is not the case. Right now, in the country of Argentina, a type of Inquisition is being carried on. It is directed against a people whose peaceful, law-abiding and God-fearing way of life is well known throughout the world.
This modern Inquisition began with the issuing of Presidential Decree Number 1867, on August 31, 1976. The decree banned all the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. And despite all the appeals, all the court cases, and even a favorable Argentine Supreme Court decision, the Inquisition continues.
One Result of the Ban
One direct result of this ban was the expelling of children from school. As the Buenos Aires Herald reported recently: “Approximately 1,000 children of parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have been expelled from school throughout the country for refusing to show reverence to the national symbols.”
A typical example of this took place on December 15, 1978. At school number 35 in Bahía Blanca, a province of Buenos Aires, school inspector Mrs. Teresa E. Inchauste de Stechi decreed that Susana and Gladys Simón were to be expelled from all schools, public and private. She stated: “They are subject to the sanction of expulsion from the establishment, and as pupils of any other educational service, as well as being banned from being given exams as independent students.”
Why? As this school official said, because of “the attitude of the children who refuse to revere the patriotic symbols, the national heroes and to commemorate corresponding dates, to sing the national anthem and patriotic marches.”
Of course, those familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses know that the highest courts in democratic lands have firmly established the right of schoolchildren not to engage in activities that violate their Bible-based conscience. Thus, in these lands they are not required to offer gestures to symbols when they view those gestures as part of a religious ceremony contrary to their beliefs.
Ignoring the Court
Ironically, the expulsion of schoolchildren for their religious beliefs is also contrary to the constitution of Argentina. So when, in violation of the law of the land, children were expelled, Jehovah’s Witnesses took the matter to the Supreme Court of Argentina.
The high court heard the case and ruled against the expulsion of schoolchildren because of religious beliefs. The Court agreed that this was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court’s decision should have solved the problem immediately. Further expulsions should have been avoided. Students expelled in the past should have been reinstated. Even the public press felt that this would be the case. For instance, a front-page headline in the Buenos Aires Herald of March 9, 1979, declared: “SCHOOLS ORDERED TO TAKE BACK WITNESSES’ CHILDREN.” Another publication, Somos, carried this title to an article on the matter: “THE RIGHT TO LEARN.”
But did the Supreme Court’s decision have the desired effect? No, it did not. Incredibly, in May 1979, less than two months after the Supreme Court’s ruling, two Witness girls were expelled from the Cura Brochero School in Barrio Residencial América, Córdoba. These two, Alejandra D. Brentan and Veronica L. Barrionuevo, were thrown out of school for not “revering” the national symbols.
Yet those same symbols were called “images” in the Supreme Court’s ruling. And since Jehovah’s Witnesses also regard these emblems as images, they do not want to perform what they regard as an act of reverence, or worship, toward them. They believe what the Bible says, for example, at Exodus 20:4, 5: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” Jesus himself refused to participate in doing “an act of worship” that was against his religious convictions.—Matt. 4:8-10; see also Daniel chapter 3.
It is hypocritical for school officials, whose duty should be to instill respect for the law and for the government, themselves deliberately to disregard the high court’s decision! Indeed, their actions in expelling the children were contemptuous of the Supreme Court.
Too, regarding the insistence by some school officials that children should “revere” such things as national heroes and other symbols, the comments of Dr. German J. Bidart Campos, a prominent jurist, are of interest. These comments were carried in the magazine El Derecho, published by the Argentine Catholic University. The jurist declared: “‘Obligatory reverence’ to the ‘heroes.’ Is there an official list of who these are? It is not the State’s concern to manufacture lay saints. What does obligatory reverence mean? Does it mean that they cannot be argued with or criticized, or that one cannot disagree with what they thought or did? Is it that they were infallible? Where did this quasi-religious dogmatism come from? Because for me Rosas was a tyrant, and for others he was a hero.”
The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses goes far beyond expelling schoolchildren. All the Bible literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses has also been banned. In addition, all their meeting places have been closed down, as was their branch headquarters.
This Inquisition-type treatment was reported in Awake! of September 22, 1978. Millions of copies of that issue were distributed to the public throughout the world. As a result, many indignant voices were raised in well-justified concern over the outcome of such flagrant denial of elementary human rights.
Letters from all parts of the world have poured into government officials’ offices. Many favorable newspaper and magazine articles have been written. But so far, all of this has been to no avail! The Argentine government has not changed its attitude. It continues to deny freedom of worship to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For example, when their religious activity was banned and the more than 600 Kingdom Halls were closed down, seals were placed on the doors so that they could not be opened. The same thing was done to the branch headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This happened on September 7, 1976. Those seals are still there. They were put there for the purpose of preventing the use of these halls as houses of worship, and for preventing Bibles and Bible literature from being distributed.
Confiscation of Bibles and Bible Literature
Another example of the inquisitorial mentality displayed by the government took place on September 21, 1978. On that date, four plainclothesmen of the Customs Police searched the former offices of the Watch Tower Society’s branch. They left a summons for the person in charge to be present the next day.
Sure enough, the following day, they returned and searched one of the buildings. It became apparent what they were looking for: personal copies of all Bibles and Bible literature that were imported.
They took this literature from individuals’ bedrooms and put it all in a vacant room. Then they sealed the room. The literature even included personal copies of Catholic Bibles.
More was to come. On November 13, 1978, Federal police again appeared at the branch headquarters. This time they had orders to confiscate all Bible literature on the premises. During the next three days Federal police trucks hauled away 3,000 cartons of Bible literature! This included 225,000 Bibles, and books explaining the Bible, such as Is the Bible Really the Word of God?, Good News—to Make You Happy, and Is This Life All There Is? All of these, in addition to other Bible literature such as booklets and magazines—all the property of Jehovah’s Witnesses—were to be destroyed, reduced to pulp!
Yet the Argentine constitution, in its Article 17, states that “confiscation of property is forever erased from the Penal Code of Argentina”! Since the action was a violation of this law, a petition was presented the next day to the Ministry of the Interior for the return of the literature. But no action was taken to correct this inquisitorial procedure that violated Argentina’s constitution.
What Has Been Done
In deep concern for the spiritual welfare of the more than 30,000 Witnesses in Argentina, and the many thousands who have been studying the Bible with them, appeals have been made through the court system. The constitutionality of the presidential decree closing down the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was challenged in court.
The Federal Court, and next the Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the government appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. On September 13, 1978, the Supreme Court rejected the case. It stated that ‘not all administrative means had been exhausted,’ and so claimed that it was not proper for them to consider the case legally.
This meant that Jehovah’s Witnesses had to make a new petition for inclusion in the Registry of Cults. This was attempted, but the Witnesses were denied the status of a non-Catholic religion. This denial was appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cults. Action is still pending.
If the Minister of Foreign Affairs denies the appeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be considered a valid religion, then legal steps have to be started all over again, from the beginning. That procedure can take years. In the meantime Jehovah’s Witnesses would be deprived of the basic human right to worship Almighty God freely, of assembling to study God’s Word, or even of talking about the Bible with others.
What is moving the Argentine government to exert such pressure against God-fearing Christians? Does it believe that modern-day Christians differ from those of the first century who withstood the pressures of the Roman Empire? Does it expect that Jehovah’s Witnesses will recant, deny their religion, when those early Christians did not? Or does the government approve of the Inquisition, where many suffered injury and death for the “crime” of owning a Bible?
There Is More You Can Do
Expressions of indignation by concerned people around the world have had their effect on some of the authorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses greatly appreciate this support. And they also appreciate the favorable decisions in the courts and by individual government officials.
However, there is more that you can do to express yourself at this continued denial of elementary human rights. You can write and express your point of view regarding this modern-day Inquisition. Let officials know how you view the practice of mass destruction of Bibles and Bible literature as practiced in Argentina today. Let them know how you feel about the actions of fanatical school officials who ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court of Argentina, as well as the constitution of the land, and still expel children from school.
You may write to the Argentina embassy in your country, and to the members of the Argentina government whose names and addresses are listed below.
President of Argentina
Jorge Rafael Videla
1064 Capital Federal
Commander and Chief of the Army
Teniente General Roberto Eduardo Viola
1064 Capital Federal
Commander and Chief of the Navy
Almirante Armando Lambruschini
1064 Capital Federal
Commander and Chief of the Air Force
Brigadier General Omar Domingo Graffigna
1064 Capital Federal
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cults
Carlos Washington Pastor
1061 Capital Federal