The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion. In September the Supreme Court ruled in favor of authorizing confessional religious education in public schools. Also in September the minister of human rights commissioned the special secretary for the promotion of racial equality to investigate the increase in acts of violence and destruction against Afro-Brazilian temples known as terreiros. In a September meeting with a representative from the Ministry of Human Rights, the representative stated that the ministry was prioritizing the creation of committees for the respect of religious diversity in every state, their purpose being to co-draft a national plan on respect for religious diversity. Numerous government officials received civil society training on religious tolerance; one Rio de Janeiro-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) trained 1,500 public officials and students.
In July the press reported that members of an alleged street vendor mafia in Rio de Janeiro attacked a Syrian refugee in a religiously motivated physical assault. In August and September unknown perpetrators committed acts of arson, vandalism, and destruction of sacred objects against seven terreiros in Nova Iguacu on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Eight similar incidents occurred in Sao Paulo in September. The press reported Rio de Janeiro Secretary of Human Rights Atila Alexandre Nunes as stating that many citizens accused evangelical Christian drug traffickers of targeting terreiros for attacks. A representative of the NGO Center for Promotion of Religious Freedom (CEPLIR) said many of the individuals involved in attacks on Afro-Brazilian religious sites and adherents self-declared as evangelicals. At the end of the year, the perpetrators of the violence remained unidentified and at large. According to the Ministry of Human Rights’ Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), its hotline received 169 complaints related to cases of religious intolerance between January and June, compared with 377 complaints in the first semester of 2016 and 382 in the second semester of 2016.
Embassy officials met with a Ministry of Human Rights’ religious diversity official to discuss the ministry’s goals to increase the number of state-level religious diversity committees. Embassy officials met with the president of the Palmares Foundation to discuss its long-term strategy of using education to increase understanding of Afro-Brazilian religion. Embassy officials also met with a representative from the Observatory of Religious Freedom (OLIR), an NGO tracking legislation, to learn about pending national legislation intended to promote religious freedom. The Consul General in Rio de Janeiro visited one of the oldest Afro-syncretic Candomble terreiros in Bahia State to reinforce U.S. support for religious diversity. U.S. officials also met with representatives from the Rio de Janeiro state SDH as well as CEPLIR to discuss their efforts to combat religious intolerance. Additionally, U.S. officials met with the imam and president of the Beneficent Islamic Cultural Center in Foz de Iguacu to discuss the role and integration of the local Islamic community over the past century.