B4 The Fresno Bee Thu., Feb. 16, 1978
Non-Catholics Must Register In Argentina
BUENOS AIRES (AP) - The military government said Wednesday a new law requiring all denominations other than Roman Catholic to register or be banned would not affect freedom of religion in Argentina.
"We have more than 1,600 religions in our files," said Col. Jose Luis Picciuolo, an army officer who directs of the Office of Religion in the Foreign Ministry.
"The law is just designed to provide a standard for the whole country."
The Catholic church is exempt because Argentina's population of 25 million is 90 percent Catholic and Argentina and the Vatican signed an accord in 1966 reaffirming the church's right to operate freely here, officials said.
All other denominations will have 90 days from when the law takes effect next month to register with the Office of Religion. Those religions already listed must apply for a place in the new registry. If they do not, they will be banned. The Foreign Ministry also can deny a petition for registration.
"This is a good thing, not a bad thing," said Nestor Parodi, the subdirector of the office's Department of non-Catholic Religions. "Every religion known to man is probably practiced in Argentina. No serious religion is going to have any problem. But if a so-called religion is really just a smokescreen for something else, it's not going to be allowed to register. I mean, some of these religions are just excuses to do other things, like take drugs."
The Foreign Ministry has maintained a list of religions since 1950.
"But the old law just applied to the capital and not to the provinces, so not every religion had to be listed. Now, with the new law, we will be applying a standard nationwide."
Pared, whose office will handle the listings, did not want to discuss the legal implications for any religion which is not included in the registry.
"The details of how the law will be carried out are still being worked on," he said. "But I don't think that the police will be throwing people in jail, or anything like that."
Four sects were banned by the military government in 1977. They are the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishna and the Children of God.
Police have accused members of the Divine Light Mission, which follows the teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji, of being drug users. Eighty-seven members of the sect were arrested for drug possession.