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 specific religion. The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance, including bullying, employment discrimination, refusal of access to public areas, and displaying, distributing, or broadcasting religiously intolerant material. Courts may fine or imprison for one to three years anyone who engages in religious hate speech. If the hate speech occurs via publication or social communication, including social media, courts may fine or imprison those found responsible for two to five years. 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 Federal Revenue Office 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 may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.
It is a crime to manufacture, sell, distribute, or broadcast symbols, emblems, ornaments, badges, or advertising that use the swastika for purposes of promoting Nazism, punishable with two to five years’ imprisonment.
The law protects the right to use animal sacrifice in religious rituals.
Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters of the curriculum. By law, instruction must be nondenominational and conducted without proselytizing, with alternative instruction available for students who do not want to participate. Schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture. The law allows public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship if their faith prohibits such activities. The law provides for the right of students to express their religious beliefs and mandates that schools provide alternatives, including taking replacement exams or makeup classes.
Rio de Janeiro State law permits public and private schools to include subjects in their curricula that address respect for freedom of belief and worship; religious and cultural diversity; the important influence of Afro-Brazilian, Indigenous, and Jewish faiths in the formation of national society; the relationship between religious freedom and the secularity of the state; and the legal consequences of intolerance against expressions of religion.
The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.
A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel to individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments. The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.
A São Paulo State religious freedom law, revised in January, regulates the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith and imposes fines of up to 95,910 reais ($18,100) for verifiable cases of disturbances of religious ceremonies and vandalism of sacred symbols, and discrimination in schools, such as prohibiting the use of religious attire. Repeat offenders may be fined up to double that amount.
Under São Paulo’s religious freedom law, the State Secretary of Justice and Citizenship enforces administrative penalties allowed in the law. The law defines discrimination against faith within the state of São Paulo and establishes fines for individuals and entities (schools, private companies, associations, churches) involved in acts of religious discrimination. Fines vary from 200 reais ($38) to 3,000 reais ($570). A board of the secretary of justice and citizenship analyzes, investigates, and deliberates over denouncements of religious discrimination.
The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March, a man was reportedly on his way to an Umbanda religious center in Goiânia, Goiás State, when three unidentified individuals chased him, called him a “macumbeiro” (a derogatory term opponents of Afro-Brazilian religions use to describe practitioners of Afro-Brazilian beliefs), and said he was wearing “demon” accessories. According to the victim, when he reported the incident to police, the police chief declined to register the report and instead asked the victim to “pray.”
In June, the Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro State sentenced Pastor Tupirani da Hora Flores, leader of the Pentecostal Church Geração Jesus Cristo (Jesus Christ Generation), to 18 years and six months in prison for racism, incitement, and other crimes for producing and publishing in 2020 several videos attacking Jews and members of other religious groups. Police arrested the pastor in February.
In June, the tabloid newspaper O Povo reported that Fernanda Carneiro, the Secretary of Tourism and Culture of Uruburetama in Ceará State, stopped the performance of a dance group, stating it was a “macumba ritual” and it was disrespectful to bring “macumba” to a religious festival. Performance participants subsequently filed a formal complaint, stating they were victims of religious intolerance. The Ceará public defender aided the claimants, and the Public Ministry of Ceará opened an investigation of the alleged religious intolerance. Carneiro later resigned her position. Representatives of the dance group said, “The religions of African origins are part of our history and our culture; we need to understand and respect them just like any other practice, enough of all ignorance and intolerance.”
Throughout the year, according to media reports, including in O Povo, some states took action to combat religious intolerance, including in February, when Ceará State’s legislative assembly approved the creation of a special police unit to combat religious intolerance. According to O Povo, the initiative, sponsored by Deputy Renato Roseno of the Socialism and Liberty Party, aimed to combat crimes against individuals and entities as well as against public or private property, when the motive is prejudice or intolerance of a religious nature.
In May, Pernambuco State lawmakers held public hearings on the topic of religious intolerance. Religious leaders and civil society organizations denounced religious intolerance during the hearings. The meetings addressed cases of discrimination against Candomblé, Umbanda, and other religious groups and practices originating from Africa. According to the State Legislative Assembly of Pernambuco, the Pernambuco Public Ministry’s 20-year-old Racism Working Group investigated complaints of religious intolerance. Maria Ivana Botelho, the public prosecutor who participated in the event, said the role of the Office of the Public Prosecutor was to seek accountability for those committing acts of religious intolerance.
According to government news sources, attacks on terreiros and physical and verbal aggression against followers of African-based religions were the most common forms of religious intolerance recorded in the northeastern part of the country, including in Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, and Sergipe States. During a public hearing held in Pernambuco in May, religious leaders and civil society organizations denounced these forms of religious intolerance. The meeting addressed racism against Candomblé, Umbanda, and other religions originating in Africa. State Deputy João Paulo of the Workers’ Party (PT), who proposed the meeting, reported that the national human rights ombudsman, linked to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, registered 571 complaints of violation of freedom of belief in 2021, more than double of the 243 occurrences in 2020.
Also in May, the representative of the Pernambuco State Secretariat of Public Defense, Jeanne de Aguiar Souza, speaking on behalf of the secretariat’s internal affairs department and the internal human rights ombudsman, said, “Any situation of discrimination must be reported and will be investigated by the police. Our team is prepared to handle these cases.” She also said investigations of past acts were ongoing. The Executive Secretary for Human Rights of the State, Laura Gomes, stated, “We are attentive and working to prevent and combat this practice [of discrimination].” Prosecutor Botelho said, “We know that such acts are due to the structural racism of the country.”
Beginning in June, individuals could report incidents of religious intolerance in the state of Rio de Janeiro to the state military police’s 190 hotline. The Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR), an independent organization in the state that is composed of representatives of religious groups, civil society, police, and public prosecutors, continued to document cases of religious intolerance and aided victims. CCIR coordinator Ivanir dos Santos highlighted the importance of the new hotline, saying that even though victims were already able to report incidents to state civil police, the military police hotline was more easily accessible and familiar. During the first six months in use, the 190 hotline received 13 reports of potential cases of religious intolerance and forwarded these cases to the police precinct responsible for issues involving racial and religious intolerance. Beginning in March, residents of the municipality of Rio de Janeiro could also report incidents of religious intolerance to the city’s 1746 hotline.
In October, CNN Brazil reported on how religion gained prominence in the presidential campaigns of Lula and Bolsonaro. Lula, a Catholic, sought support from evangelical Christians, while Bolsonaro, a conservative Catholic with close ties to evangelical Christians, sought to build up his support from Catholics. The two leading candidates frequently discussed religion in their debates and interviews and held religion-focused campaign events. In October, Lula issued a letter of commitment to evangelical groups and Bolsonaro visited the National Sanctuary of Aparecida on October 12 to participate in one of their masses. According to a survey conducted by polling firm IPEC, Bolsonaro had the support of 63 percent of evangelical Christian voters while Lula had 31 percent.
In July, the Public Ministry of Santa Catarina State (MPSC) reopened the case of history professor Wandercy Pugliesi, who in 2020 had a large, tiled swastika symbol in his personal pool, a symbol he removed in 2021. The MPSC’s Second Review Panel of the Superior Council unanimously ruled in July that even though Pugliesi stated his use of a Nazi symbol did not mean he was a Nazi, he should still be held responsible. In June 2021, Pugliesi’s lawyers requested that the public prosecutor’s office drop the case after Pugliesi provided photographs showing that the symbol in the swimming pool had been removed. As of year’s end, the council had not determined the appropriate penalties to impose on Pugliesi.
In June, after a six-year process, a federal court in São Paulo State indicted a man for spreading pro-Nazi and pro-Hitler propaganda on a Russian social media network. The defendant was already serving community service sentences for two similar crimes he was convicted of previously.
During the year, the Police Office for Combatting Intolerance for the City of Porto Alegre registered approximately 100 reported cases of religious intolerance, which represented 9 percent of the total 1,100 discrimination complaints. Some civil society leaders praised the office for consolidating efforts regarding discrimination in one office, which simplified victims’ ability to seek support. According to civil society leaders, however, concentrating different types of discrimination in one office could undermine its investigative ability. According to civil society leaders in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, race was a contributing factor in many cases of, and studies on, religious intolerance.
The NGO Center for Articulation of Marginalized Populations reported Afro- Brazilian victims of religious intolerance in the state of Rio de Janeiro viewed police and the judiciary as being indifferent to attacks on Afro- Brazilian places of worship. The organization cited a lack of investigations and arrests in cases of religious intolerance and said law enforcement and the judiciary rarely held offenders accountable.
In March, the São Paulo Legislative Assembly held a ceremony to celebrate the first anniversary of a law prohibiting religious discrimination in the state and establishing administrative and financial sanctions. The author of the law, state Deputy Damares Moura, said it was an important tool to protect freedom of religion and inspired the states of Santa Catarina and Espírito Santo to approve similar legislation establishing administrative sanctions for religious discrimination. In April, Espirito Santo authorities approved a statute on religious freedom that provided for freedom of religion, conscience, and thought in the public and private spheres and emphasized the separation between church and state. In January, Santa Catarina enacted a law on religious freedom to combat religious intolerance, including through fines and other administrative sanctions, and to encourage religious diversity. Edebrande Cavalieri, an adviser to the Espirito Santo Archdiocese, said the new statute showed that the state had finally acknowledged the growing problem of religious intolerance in Espirito Santo. According to Cavalieri, the new law was an important tool to promote the rights of all citizens.
In January, the state of São Paulo increased potential fines for cases of religious discrimination, based on its state law on freedom of religion. The maximum administrative fine increased from 87,270 reais ($16,500) to 95,910 reais ($18,100), and individuals committing recurring incidents of discrimination could be fined up to double that amount.
In June, the city government of Salvador declared the Casa de Ogum Terreiro a historical and cultural heritage site. Participants chanted and prayed, and 103-year-old adherent Mother Didi said she felt honored to lead a space that was valuable to many. Nigerian priestess Josefa de Santana founded the temple in the 19th century.
On May 25, the São Paulo Interreligious Forum for a Culture of Peace and Freedom of Faith, a civil society entity of the State Secretary of Justice and Citizenship, held its first interreligious meeting in celebration of the local Day of Freedom of Religion in the state government headquarters. Governor Rodrigo Garcia said the event symbolized the state’s commitment to cultural and religious tolerance.
In January, Rio de Janeiro launched a new municipal plan to combat religious intolerance. Headed by the city’s new Religious Diversity Coordinator, Márcio Dodds Righetti Mendes, the plan involved other institutions, such as the Municipal Guard and the Departments of Health and Education. Mendes, a professor of Yoruba philosophy and culture and a lawyer specializing in human rights, said the plan would train public servants to contribute to protecting the religious freedom of all citizens.
On March 6, the Ilha do Governador District mayor of Rio de Janeiro invited followers of Candomblé and Umbanda to hold a ceremony in honor of Iemanjá, a Candomblé orixá (spirit), at the Praia da Bica in Ilha do Governador. The district’s deputy mayor invited the group to rehold their religious ceremony after a local resident interrupted the original event on February 6, when he fired a handgun from his balcony. Local officials stated that while the incident did not cause any injuries, it was an act of religious intolerance. According to Tião Raiz, a religious leader who was with the group on the day of the incident, Rio de Janeiro Civil Police continued to investigate the incident but as of year’s end, no charges were filed.
According to multiple media reports, governments promoted and celebrated religious inclusion. Senators at the federal level commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance and the World Day of Religion on January 21, aimed at alerting the population to the danger of discrimination and religious prejudice and celebrating respect for all religions. Rio de Janeiro’s city government organized a Week of Religious Diversity from January 17–21, which included an interfaith dialogue and cultural activities at historical sites. On January 20, Bahia’s state government organized a virtual interfaith dialogue entitled “Voices for Religious Diversity.”
Media reported that President Bolsonaro made several social media posts on February 9 that rejected Nazi ideology and its presence in the country. “Nazi ideology must be repudiated in an unrestricted and permanent way, without reservations that allow its flourishing, as well as any and all totalitarian ideology that jeopardizes the fundamental rights of peoples and individuals, such as the right to life and liberty,” he wrote. According to media, his messages were intended to rebut a speech on YouTube by Bruno Aiub, known as Monark, who defended the existence of a Nazi party in the country.
During the year, according to the Porto Alegre Interfaith Group, there was an increase in the number of evangelical Christians serving on the conselhos tutelares (guardianship councils providing social services focused on protecting children and adolescents’ rights). Persons elected to the councils are not politicians, and their responsibility is to provide social assistance to families, children, and adolescents facing issues such as violence, hunger, and homelessness. In recent years, the conselheiro tutelar position became increasingly sought after by individuals affiliated with evangelical churches and who aspired to political office on the local level. These churches reportedly used members who served as conselheiros tutelares to advocate their views, including on human rights and religious freedom.
In October, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief released a report on the freedom of religion or belief of Indigenous peoples and cited Brazil as an example of where the cultural and spiritual survival of its Indigenous peoples was under threat. According to the report, the country’s Indigenous communities faced forced conversion to non-Indigenous religions and threats, hostility, and discrimination from the state and religious institutions. The report also stated that the government’s lack of regulation of agricultural fertilizers had caused water pollution in Indigenous territory, threatening spiritually significant waters.