The federal constitution states that freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion. The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance. Courts may fine or imprison for two to five years any individual who displays, distributes, or broadcasts religiously intolerant material. It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.
Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality. States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status. Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship. Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group can build houses of worship or hold ceremonies. A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel in all civil and military establishments.
Public schools are required to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters. By law the instruction should be nondenominational and without proselytizing, with alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate. The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.
The law requires religious access, including for members of African-originated religions, in public institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and other institutions. African-originated religions are understood, but not officially recognized, to be “religions whose theological and philosophical essences have their roots in traditional African religions.”
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The SDH released the preliminary results of its Report on Religious Intolerance and Violence in Brazil covering the period 2011-2015. The report included press coverage of religious violence and intolerance reported to national ombudsmen, and analysis of current jurisprudence. Of the 409 articles published on religious violence and intolerance from 2011 to 2015, 53 percent involved victims who practiced African-originated religions. Print media published more than half of these stories, 212, in 2015, a sharp increase from the 84 published in 2014 and 45 in 2013.
SDH requested data on reported incidents of religious intolerance from 113 ombudsmen offices; only 37 responded to the inquiry. Of these 37 offices, 14 reported they had received 1,031 complaints of religious violence and intolerance during the reporting period. The largest proportion of victims – 27 percent – professed to practice African-originated religions, and 83 percent of all reported incidents took place in private homes.
On January 21, the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance, the federal government hosted a panel discussion in which the representative of the Ministry of Culture’s Palmares Foundation – mandated to promote and protect the country’s culture of African descent – spoke about the link between racism and cases of religious intolerance. The Palmares Foundation launched a new national Network for Protection of Victims of Religious Intolerance at the event.
In July the city of Sao Goncalo completed demolition of the home where Brazilians founded the African-originated religion known as Umbanda. The city first scheduled demolition of the house in 2011. The CCIR stalled complete demolition for five years while it led preservation efforts, lobbying the city mayor, the governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the Office of the President, and the Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage. The Office of the President has yet to deliver on promises to build an Umbanda Museum at the site.
Although religious instruction was optional, a large portion of public schools considered it mandatory and continued not to offer alternatives or opt-out options for students. The SDH Report on Religious Intolerance and Violence in Brazil found 25 percent of 110 legal cases from 2011 to 2015 concerned incidents that occurred in schools.
The federal government launched national public awareness campaigns on social media to highlight respect for racial equality and religious plurality. #AcrediteNoRespeito (I believe in respect) and #SouFilhoDoBrasil (I am a child of Brazil) were hashtags used to underscore the cultural importance of African-originated religions. The federal government created a new website to raise awareness about religious diversity and intolerance. Another initiative included capacity building and training for government officials, particularly in law enforcement to assist them in understanding crimes involving religion. In November the state government of Paraiba, for example, carried out training on combating racism and religious intolerance in the city of Joao Pessoa for members of the civil police units that work in the Integrated Operations Center.
The CNRDR identified ensuring safe spaces for refugees of various religions to practice their faiths, and maintaining respect for the country as a secular state as their goals. In April the Committee released a statement expressing concern for the “depredation of spaces of worship of religions of African origin.”
A number of state and municipal legislatures held public hearings on combating religious intolerance. In a hearing in the Federal District of Brasilia, the governor cited the creation of a specialized police station to receive reports of crimes related to discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, and religion. The Federal Public Ministry in Rio Grande do Sul State held a hearing to develop practices to combat what it characterized as the “trivialization” of public demonstrations of political and religious intolerance.
The Rio de Janeiro city government launched the Municipal Office for the Respect of Religious Diversity in May. Representatives of religious groups and local NGOs (including the CCIR, the NGO responsible for the Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom in Rio de Janeiro) criticized the city government for filling the office’s 19 positions with individuals they said were political allies who lacked experience and technical knowledge of religious affairs. The representatives said the lack of dialogue between the city government and civil society before the office opening called into question the legitimacy of the initiative.
The report also analyzed 110 legal cases. Contrary to the trend exhibited in print media stories, 45 percent of the victims in the cases examined were Adventist while only 7 percent were practitioners of African-originated religions. The cases included a Seventh-day Adventist college student in Sao Paulo who requested makeup sessions for night classes missed because of the Adventist observance of the Sabbath. Similarly, the Center for Jewish Education requested an alternative date for the National Secondary School Examination on behalf of 22 Jewish students because the original exam date coincided with Shabbat; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in both cases. In another case, the Federal Public Ministry sued Google Brazil to secure the immediate removal from YouTube of videos that fostered prejudice against African-originated religions; the Ministry also asked for the identities of the account holders responsible for posting the videos for possible criminal investigation.
The SDH report recommended more awareness raising campaigns about institutional resources, highlighting the low number of complaints filed with ombudsmen as an example of the disconnect between the general population and public institutions available to provide assistance. The report cited the 12th National Conference on Human Rights, which took place in Brasilia in April, during which participants shared the difficulty of filing formal complaints of religious violence and intolerance at police stations and public prosecutors’ offices throughout the country.