Symposium 2014: Brazil and Guyana

Reported by Gaylee Coverston

Moderator: Gregory G. Clark, International Fellow, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
Speakers: Uziel Santana, President, ANAJURE (National Association of Evangelical Jurists); Luigi Braga, General Counsel, South American Division, Seventh-day Adventist Church; Acyr de Gerone, Lawyer, Brazil Bar Association, Religious Freedom Committee of the BAR Association of Paraná State of Brazil; Raphael Trotman, Speaker, National Assembly of Guyana

This session began with Dr. Uziel Santana, President of ANAJURE, the National Association of Evangelical Jurists and a tenured professor at the Federal University of Sergipe.  Dr. Santana presented a general view of violent situations throughout the world that have issues of religious freedom as the source of conflict.  He discussed the real violence that exists and how that affects the populations in each area.  He then presented the religious demographics of Brazil and how they have changed over the years.  Brazil began as a catholic state with a 100% compliance to religious dominance.  As the years continued, the rate of those claiming Catholicism as their religion gradually declined making room for many other religious entities.  In 2010, only 64% of the population continued to call themselves catholic.  Although the religious culture in Brazil is constantly changing and religious diversity is on the rise, real violence, as depicted in the general worldview, does not normally manifest itself in Brazil.  He then explained the concept of symbolic violence versus real violence in terms of religious prejudice.  Symbolic violence is increasing in Brazil.  He mentioned two newspapers printed in 1918 by Catholics and 1919 by Evangelists as an initial example of symbolic violence.  Words and general disrespect for other traditions began and shaped viewpoints in misunderstandings.  He continued with examples of antireligious social movements where religious values and concepts were symbolically violated.  No real violence occurred but the attitudes of distain and disrespect were clearly evident. This is a growing issue in Brazil as well as across the world.  He concluded with the warning that this must change.

Then Luigi Braga, General Counsel for the South American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and professor at the Brazil Adventist University, began with the fount from which freedom in Brazil flows.  He quoted article 5 which states that all citizens and legal residents in Brazil are guaranteed certain rights that cannot be taken away from them due to religious, philosophic, or political conviction. These rights include life, liberty, equality, safety and property. He then presented a couple of cases with which he is currently involved that impinged upon the liberty and equality or equal  opportunity of a student due to his religious beliefs.  One case deals with a Seventh-day Adventist student who was preparing to take a national exam that all students must take, similar to the SAT or ACT, in the United States, to be able to continue on in their education. The exam is only offered on Saturdays, which is the Sabbath day for Seventh-day Adventists.  He requested another option in order to be able to follow the dictates of his conscience and maintain diligent observance of his faith.  Another case involves a student who has courses at night and the Friday night courses interfered with his religious observance as sunset on Friday until Sunset on Saturday is the Sabbath for the student.  The end result was that the judges did not offer options, as that would go beyond “reasonable” efforts and reasonable efforts were all that were required.   Efficiency needed to be taken into account in order to accommodate any efforts as that would determine the reasonableness of options.  The concept of “reasonableness”  seemed completely absurd to Dr. Braga.  The question of what is reasonable and what is not, should be have more to do with the preservation of article 5 in the Constitution, the right to life, liberty, equality, safety and property, and in this case the hope for the future and a better life than other mundane issues.  Dr. Braga discussed the concept of efficiency versus freedom.  He concluded that there was still much to be done despite Brazil’s welcoming position on religious freedom. 

Acyr de Gerone, a member of the Law and Religious Freedom Committee of the OAB, Order of Attorneys of Brazil, of the state of Paraná, offered a description of the purpose and duties of this Committee of the OAB.  Mr. Gerone explained that the first and foremost duty of the OAB is to defend the constitution of Brazil.  Within the OAB, are various committees.  The Law and Religious Freedom Committee was established in 2008, and is composed of twenty members who profess various religious and non-religious beliefs whose duty is to defend civil liberties, in particular the fundamental right of freedom of conscience, belief and worship espoused  in section VI and VII of Article 5 in the Brazilian Constitution.  He listed some of the events that the committee has organized, such as a yearly gratitude worship service in August on Attorney’s Day, a debate on the decriminalization of abortion, a debate regarding indigenous infanticide to determine whether that is a right of belief/culture or not, a seminary with all the city council members from Curitiba regarding religious intolerance, studies on religious sciences, and, in conjunction with ANAJURE, an exhibition with Dr. Jonatas Machado from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, regarding creationist theories being  taught in school, and many other events.  Also, this committee acts as a consulting body for society.  They have reviewed items such as Islamic claims of internet videos that attack the Muslim faith, the mocking of religious subjects on the radio, civil/religious marriages, issues with keeping the Sabbath versus conflicts with schooling requirements, and many more.  The procedure which they use consists of a committee member chosen as a rapporteur  and one or two as reviewers.   The committee was consulted by an Evangelical Psychologist, Marisa Lobo, who wanted to know the constitutional position on the edict from the Regional Board of Psychology that she remove any and all links between her faith and her profession from social media within 15 days.  The rapporteur was a lawyer and a Law Professor of the Muslim faith and the two reviewers were a catholic and a spiritualist.  The resulting opinion was that the Regional Board of Psychology acted in an unconstitutional and abusive manner.  The public affirmation of one’s faith is not subsumed in the legal framework of the practice of one’s profession.  Mr. Gerone concluded that the OAB is an indispensable organization in defending and guaranteeing the fundamental right of religious freedom in the country. 

Rafael Trotman, Speaker of the National Assembly of Guyana and Co-Founder of the Alliance for Change, currently the country’s third largest political party, spoke next, presenting a brief overview of Guyana, a former Dutch and English colony which gained political independence in 1966.  Guyana is situated on the northern coast of South America and is bordered by Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.  Even though this nation is small in size, only 216 square kilometers and 800,000 people, it boasts quite a diverse population.   Its indigenous population consists of members from 9 different Amerindian tribes, currently approximately 70,000 in number.  Then, colonists, from a variety of places, Europe, Portugal, Africa, China, India, came and brought their cultures and religions, intermingling with the indigenous population creating a very interesting blend of society.  With European colonization, Christianity became the dominant religion and according to Speaker Trotman, “provided the anvil on which the laws, values, and culture were forged.”  In respect to its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, the secular state was declared in Article 1 of the Guyana Constitution.  Article 145 clearly establishes the rights to freedom of conscience, or in other words freedom of thought and religion.  In 2002, a new addition, Article 38F was made to the Constitution declaring that no religion or religious belief would be vilified.  Religious demographic in Guyana are as follows: 57% Christianity, 28% Hinduism, 7% Islam, Rastafari and Bahai with recognizable followings and a relative 4% claiming no belief system.  The Inter-Religious Organization, IRO, of Guyana was established to encourage tolerance, respect and cooperation.  Its membership is growing but mainly consists of minority religions.  The hope is that this organization can create greater equality as it gains ground.  In general, there are no religious tensions and the Guyanese people often embrace cultural practices and celebrations of other groups, as the main celebratory dates for Christians, Hindus, and Muslims are declared as national holidays.  Politics in Guyana are deeply intertwined with religion because the two main competing ethnicities are East Indians and Africans and their cultures play a large part in the political arena.  Although there have been some issues without proper explanation, the government seeks to carefully avoid being linked to one religion or another and instead tries to openly encourage “space” for all religions.  However, in the current world where  intolerance and bigotry can appear, Speaker Trotman concluded that every effort must be made to safeguard this freedom.