Symposium 2015: Brazil

Reported by Gaylee Coverston

In the session on Brazil, Ricardo Leite, founding partner of Cerqueira Leite Advogados Associados, and previous Chief Legal Advisor for the South and Southeast Region of Shell Brazil, acted as moderator for the panel of delegates as they presented a celebration of Religious freedom in Brazil. 

Moroni Torgan, member of the Brazilian Congress representing the state of Ceara̒, presented information on the Parliamentary Front for Religious Freedom, of which he is the president. This Parliamentary group includes over two hundred congressmen and twenty Senators with a united purpose to preserve religious freedom. The motto, “It isn’t enough to believe, you must also respect,” is the guiding motivation for the work performed by the Front. Congressman Torgan explained that when religious freedom is maintained and protected, it strengthens democracy, for a true democracy cannot exist without religious freedom. It permits social interaction, develops solidarity, unites people and acts as a foundation for free will. In a religiously free environment, religion and secular knowledge grow closer together and can reflect concepts of interest. He stated that religious freedom fortifies the spirit and teaches respect for differences. 

Religious freedom without a legal framework can become a socio-cultural dictator. The parameters laid out in the Brazilian constitution offer the framework necessary to maintain appropriate freedoms without dominion by one sect or another. Because religious freedom allows for the practice of genuine charity and love, it fights hate and strengthens respect. With religious freedoms in place and properly protected, it diminishes violence and fortifies peace. Congressman Torgan concluded by emphasizing that these concepts build upon his own personal principles. He also stated that religious freedom in theory is fabulous but sometimes in practice it becomes more difficult and thus often requires legal framework to maintain its purpose. Regarding religious freedom, he stated, “What unites us is more than what separates us.”

Hugo José Oliveira, legal advisor for the National Bishops Conference of Brazil, the Conference of Major Superiors and the National Catholic Education Association, began by prefacing his comments with the caveat that all his remarks were his own opinions and not representative of his position with the Catholic Church. Brazil, he clearly stated, is a country where the majority of its citizens intimately identify with religion. However, religion currently has been represented more as an obstacle than an opportunity. Specifically, media has portrayed religion as a whole in the light of religious conservatives and the picture has not been kind. This unclear picture threatens the stability of society as a whole and religious freedom in particular. Instead of working toward respect and understanding, the subject becomes a war between the liberals and the conservatives. Media coverage of religious freedom is incorrect and misrepresents the purpose of the concept and to allow such representation is one of the greatest errors of our time. Tolerance is a core concept in the Brazilian constitution and part of our social covenants. However, even with this expectation, tensions exist regarding religious freedom and are often exacerbated by sensational media coverage. This whole situation promotes social disintegration. Brazil, in actuality, must be considered a violent society. Over 55,000 murders or assassinations occur yearly. In an attempt to sensationalize these acts, the media presents these acts as crimes of intolerance. However, that isn’t generally the case. Therefore, a clear picture of religious intolerance is difficult to see. Within the government, religious freedom and freedom of conscience is treated differently according to the branch of government. The executive branch views religious freedom as a low priority due to the greater demands placed on the office. Within the legislative branch, the subject becomes a political and economic discussion. Finally, it is a delicate balance in the judicial branch. If a judge excuses himself or herself from a case due to religious issues, they are attacked. If they don’t excuse themselves, then they are also attacked. As diverse religions seek religious freedoms they should work together rather than attack each other. Working together provides more success than not. Stereotypical views of religious groups portrayed by the media are very difficult to defend and correct unless religions work together to make a difference. The concept of a secular state, in his opinion, is faulty. A secular state cannot dictate religion. It has no power to enforce any set of beliefs. 

Odacyr Prigol, the new J. Reuben Clark Chapter Chair for the Curitiba Chapter and member of the Brazilian Bar Association’s Religious Freedom Commission, reiterated the purpose of this symposium, as presented yesterday in the opening remarks:  Religion, the Law and Social Stability. Dr. Prigol established three aspects of importance regarding religious freedom that greatly influence social stability: positive acts of charity and support for the issue, united collaboration, and respect for diverse beliefs. He presented current positive actions in Brazil that support religious freedom’s role in social stability. The Brazilian Bar Association’s Religious Freedom Commission, an organization that searches for practical solutions to confrontational issues regarding religious freedom, plays a positive role in social stability. He discussed the conferences and activities initiated and supported by this Religious Freedom Commission, in which they unite various religious groups to discuss the importance of religious freedom, its necessity as part of society and solutions to current issues regarding religious freedom. He cited specific events and emphasized the success of these events. 

He also addressed the concept that religious freedom remains one of the most important factors in economic development. Countries that have strict regulations and governmental restriction on religious freedom also restrict economic development. The Commission also searches for favorable economic ambience. Brazil has incentivized commercial entities to improve respect for and to honor the religious traditions of their employees. All companies need to respect religious beliefs immaterial of the sect. He mentioned the collaboration that exists in the documentation of tolerance and accommodation from corporations and their efforts to preserve the religious freedoms of their employees.

Jonas Moreno Almeida, Director of ANAJURE for refugees and humanitarian aid, spoke on international rights for refugees. He elaborated that when we speak of refugees we speak of those that are persecuted, most often for religious, racial and cultural reasons. He showed a map detailing refugee dislocation and gave specific numbers of refugees from various continents. In countries that don’t have religious freedom, persecution remains intense and can often grow. Brazil is one of the most advanced countries regarding religious freedom. It has guarded religious freedom and religiosity with distinction, recognizing religion as an integral part of it citizens’ lives. However, many countries do not have such a framework in which to function. Therefore, an international judicial framework became a necessary concept in order to maintain religious freedom worldwide. 

Dr. Moreno gave a brief history regarding abuses and the international legal corrections established. He discussed war and how reverence for human rights became legitimate. He discussed the coining of the term refugee, its apolitical classification and forms of action established, such as the Geneva Convention, the Declaration for Human Rights, and more. He further recognized the norms regarding refugees, international statutes regarding refugees that have been ratified and adopted in 141 countries. In Brazil, the government cannot discriminate against refugees for any reason. Brazil adopted statutes and national human rights laws in 1997 and thus, refugees have the right to documentation and the protocol for refugee treatment is clearly detailed.  He stated that in a country where religious freedom exists, such as Brazil, it is easier to establish decrees regarding the protection and care of refugees and the defense of basic human rights. As a result, Brazil has shown great interest and care in their treatment of refugees. Dr. Moreno spoke about the necessity for mercy as presented by the Savior. Mercy offered to others in daily living is key to the treatment of all people. Mercy in action will produce the best environment for social stability. 

Ricardo Leite thanked all the delegates and those present as well as the university.