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Brazil

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. In March the Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled animal sacrifice in religious rituals was constitutional, noting special protection for traditional Afro-Brazilian religions was necessary due to the country’s history of discrimination against these religions. The Rio Grande do Sul State Court of Justice continued the prosecution of individuals charged in a 2005 anti-Semitic attack against three men wearing kippahs in Porto Alegre, the state capital. In March a military police officer and a courthouse official prevented lawyer Matheus Maciel from entering two courthouses in the state of Bahia because he was wearing a religious head covering. Maciel was later permitted to enter a courthouse after he called the Bahia State Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and reported the incident. In April the administration of Tarcila Cruz de Alencar Elementary School, located in Ceara State, removed history teacher Maria Firmino from the classroom for teaching the culture and history of Afro-Brazilian religions. On January 3, President Jair Bolsonaro signed into law a bill allowing public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities. On August 21, the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill establishing administrative sanctions on individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance. The Senate passed a bill creating the annual National Day of Spiritism, to be celebrated on April 18, and a second bill designating Jaguaretama in Ceara State as the National Capital of Spiritism. On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. On March 26, Sao Paulo State Secretary of Justice and Citizenship Paulo Mascaretti launched an awareness campaign with the Inter-Religious Forum, an entity with civil society and religious group participation, to combat intolerance.

According to national human rights hotline data and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions continued to be weak, and violent attacks on Afro-Brazilian places of worship, known as terreiros, continued. Although less than 1 percent of the population follows Afro-Brazilian religions, 30 percent of the cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, the national human rights hotline received 506 reports of religious intolerance in 2018, compared with 537 in 2017. From April to August, media reported members of criminal organizations attacked several terreiros in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro State, expelling religious followers and preventing Afro-Brazilian religious services. On June 13, Rio de Janeiro police officers from four different police stations, including the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Office for Racial Crimes and Crimes of Intolerance (DECRADI), launched an operation to detain individuals who participated in the attacks and arrested eight individuals. In January, after television network Record News lost a 15-year lawsuit in which it had been accused of promoting religious intolerance towards Afro-Brazilian religions, the organization paid a 600,000 reais ($149,000) fine and produced and broadcast four 20-minute programs on Afro-Brazilian religions. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including the 22nd Azoany Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom in Salvador, Bahia, on August 16, which convened approximately 2,500 practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to advocate for the protection of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion.

In April and September, U.S. embassy officials engaged the coordinator for religious diversity at the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights to discuss the government’s efforts to promote religious tolerance and prevent violence towards Afro-Brazilian religions. In July embassy officials met with the Federal District Special Police Station for the Prevention of Crimes of Discrimination based on Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Age, or Disability (DECRIN), which specifically covers religious hate crimes. As a result of nomination by the embassy and consulates, Ivanir dos Santos, an Afro-Brazilian activist and religious leader, was a recipient of the Secretary of State’s International Religious Freedom Award for his exceptional commitment to advancing religious freedom. His work included founding the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, an independent organization composed of representatives from different religious groups, members of civil society, police, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which documents cases of religious intolerance and assists victims. In April embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro to discuss anti-Semitism in the country. In May embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) at their national headquarters in Sao Paulo to discuss the importance of protecting religious freedom. In May and August officials from the Recife Consulate met with representatives of the Israeli Federation of Pernambuco to discuss issues affecting the Jewish community. Sao Paulo Consulate officials met with evangelical Christian leaders in July to discuss the role of religious leaders in promoting religious tolerance. In December the embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue on religious freedom for seven representatives from six religious and interfaith organizations to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 210.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a 2016 Datafolha survey, 50 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, compared with 60 percent in 2014. During the same period, the proportion of atheists increased from 6 percent to 14 percent, and the proportion of evangelical Christians increased from 24 percent to 31 percent. According to the 2010 census, 65 percent of the population is Catholic, 22 percent Protestant, 8 percent irreligious (including atheists, agnostics, and deists), and 2 percent Spiritist. Adherents of other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ, Seventh-day Adventists, as well as followers of non-Christian religions, including Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Afro-Brazilian and syncretic religious groups such as Candomble and Umbanda, make up a combined 3 percent of the population. According to the census, there are 588,797 practitioners of Candomble, Umbanda, and other Afro-Brazilian religions, and some Christians also practice Candomble and Umbanda. According to a nonrepresentative 2017 survey of 1,000 persons older than age 18 by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, 44 percent of Brazilians consider themselves followers of more than one religion.

According to the 2010 census, approximately 35,200 Muslims live in the country, while the Federation of Muslim Associations of Brazil estimates the number to be 1.2 to 1.5 million. The largest communities reside in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguazu, as well as in smaller cities in the states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul.

According to the Jewish Confederation of Brazil, there are approximately 125,000 Jews. The two largest concentrations are 65,000 in Sao Paulo State and 29,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In April and September embassy officials engaged the coordinator for religious diversity at the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights. Representatives from the Directorate for Human Rights Promotion and Education discussed the status of the National Committee for Respect of Religious Diversity and the government’s efforts to promote religious tolerance. Embassy officials promoted the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the Department of State and the importance of protecting religious freedom.

In July embassy officials met with DECRIN representatives and discussed a DECRIN report documenting cases of religious intolerance in the Federal District.

The embassy and consulates nominated Ivanir dos Santos, a Rio de Janeiro-based Afro-Brazilian activist, academic, and religious leader for the Secretary of State’s 2019 International Religious Freedom Award honoring civil society actors who had demonstrated exceptional commitment to advancing freedom of religion or belief. In July dos Santos was selected as one of five awardees honored at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington. According to Ivanir, the award strengthened his work by raising media awareness and bolstering his credibility among civil society as a regional leader on issues of religious intolerance. Following a series of meetings since receiving his award, the consulate and Ivanir held an interfaith dialogue at a Candomble temple in northern Rio de Janeiro City in September with the participation of Lutheran, Umbanda, and Candomble representatives. Together with the Consul General and other consulate officials, Ivanir and a diverse group of religious leaders described the urgency of combating threats to religious freedom in the country and the importance of U.S. support in raising awareness. Leading several hundred participants in the 12th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Ivanir attracted unprecedented media attention and government attention.

In April embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro, a nonprofit association representing the Jewish community, to discuss anti-Semitism in the country.

In May embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ at their national headquarters in Sao Paulo.

In May and August Recife Consulate officials met with representatives of the Israeli Federation of Pernambuco and discussed issues affecting the Jewish community. Leaders of the federation shared incidents of religious intolerance and discussed the history of the Jewish community in Recife.

Sao Paulo Consulate officials met with evangelical Christian leaders in July to discuss the role of religious leaders in promoting religious tolerance.

On September 26, officials from the Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro met with Ivanir dos Santos and other Afro-Brazilian religious leaders during a visit to a Candomble temple in Rio’s northern suburbs, a temple subjected to incidents of religious intolerance. Dos Santos requested the consulate continue supporting Afro-Brazilian religious institutions and monitoring issues impacting religious freedom in the country.

In October an embassy official met with a representative from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They discussed the Church’s interests in promoting respect for religious freedom and opportunities for interfaith dialogue.

In December the embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue on religious freedom for seven representatives from six religious and interfaith organizations to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Participants represented a cross section of faiths, including evangelical Christian, Protestant, African-descendent, and indigenous. The discussion centered on key challenges impacting religious freedom, primarily the fear some participants said they felt of an intolerant evangelism linked to criminal organizations.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future