Notes on the Freedom of Belief, Religious Intolerance and Religions of African Origin – Analysis and Proposals

This document was presented by Iyalorixá Mãe Wanda D’Osun, of the terreiro Ile Iya Mi Osun Muiywa, to the respected Minister of State of the Special Secretary of Politics for the Promotion of Racial Equality, Prof. Matilde Ribeiro
São Paulo, May 21, 2003

Beginning with the first constitution of the republic in 1891, Brazil formally abolished the idea of an official state religion or anything that might resemble it. In a clear and unambiguous manner, the constitution of 1988 takes on a very lay almost unreligious tone, wherein prohibiting, as indicated in art.19, part 1, the Brazilian government from establishing alliances or from creating any type of dependant relationship with any religion, faith, or spiritual practice. At the same time, the aforementioned article of the constitution hinders the functioning of anything that may resemble worship within the government. Article 5, VI also consecrates the principle of freedom of religion, freedom of belief, freedom to practice rituals, and the freedom to organize for religious purposes. All of which are included in the “Constitutional Catalog of Civil Liberties”.

Aligned with, and upholding the freedom of belief, the practice of religious instruction (education), (mentioned in the constitution) was rewritten and toned down to take on a more neutral tone.

In addition, the charter of the republic grants tax immunity to temples of whatever religion or form of worship. Further hindrance on the freedom of belief, article 5 part VIII, prohibits the right to privacy to be based on religious beliefs, (an idea that is prominent and exists throughout the constitution). Various rules and regulations have been established that make up a body of rights automatically granted to temples, priests, and to adherents of any religious faith.

The inherent resentment within the constitution and that of common legislation, as well as the general intolerance towards “nature religions” or religions of non-European origin, forms one of the most abject forms of Brazilian racism. It has remained constant throughout our history, even resisting our country’s democratization process, whose crowning achievement was the writing of the Constitution of 1988.

Given the above facts, we sincerely admit that there was a definite hiatus between the granting of the aforementioned constitutional rights and the reality of daily infringements and violations of the rights of the temples and priests of African based religions.

Despite the lack of trustworthy statistics, there are estimates that state that almost half of all individuals who profess being a member of the Catholic Church have some sort of link or ties to Candomblé. An investigative study carried out in Sao Paulo cited the existence in the 1980’s of more than 5000 temples of religions of African origin in the state of SP alone. Prominent states in the federation such as Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Maranhao, Espirito Santo, and Minas Gerais show widespread evidence of the practice of African based religions.

Even though not one temple has tax immunity, their ministers/priests are not eligible to participate in the social security system (in the capacity of a religious priest in which he is constitutionally entitled to participate as), and does not have access to public hospitals or cemeteries. Not having access to public cemeteries poses another problem, for these priests do not even possess the right to be interred in their respective temples (a right not currently practiced by adherents of African based religions perhaps due to lack of knowledge as to the actual process, or perhaps due to the administrative and judiciary resistance to its’ being practiced). At the present time, public registrars and notaries are refusing to recognize the validity of marriages performed by African based religious organizations and their members.

A fair number of priests, most from humble backgrounds, grow old and pass away without having access to social security and welfare, are frequently witness to raids on the temples carried out without warrants by public safety officers at any hour of the day or night.

Similarly it is worth pointing out that there is a systematic campaign of religious intolerance directed towards religions of African origin carried out by various media outlets (TV, print, radio, internet). In some states such as Rio Grande do Sul and Bahia, there has been an increase in complaints regarding attempted raids, assaults, and the vandalization of temples.

Religious education, an elective educational option, as previously mentioned in the body of the constitution, has been pushed forward on a local level by the governments of every state. This religious education does not include and deliberately excludes the participation of religions of African origin. In the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the local governments have hired Catholic priests and pastors to teach religious education in public schools. In violation with the Constitution, public funds are often used to stock churches with religious accoutrements such as confession booths, and most notably the funds are used to underwrite the broadcasting of events of Catholic worship on public educational TV networks.
We should take note that the battle against racial and religious intolerance is the duty and prerogative of SEPPIR (a Brazilian gov’t agency) with the reasons being stated in the provisional measure # 111 of March 21st, 2003 (proposed by the Special Secretary in charge of the Promotion of Racial Equality and Policy). In the second article of the measure it states that the Special Secretary, among others, is in charge of the protection of the rights of individuals and members of racial and ethnic groups, with an emphasis on the Black population most affected by racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance.

Also one should take note that a large part of the problems faced by the religions of African origin should be resolved on the level playing fields of the courts, by means of judiciary and political processes that protect the rights and interests of our religion, and reaffirm the innate dignity of our religion. This being said, let’s outline a few concrete ideas that could be implemented to overcome the aforementioned problems:

Establish a commission made up of noteworthy members of society (in the public eye) who would be in charge of securing and creating an open forum or dialogue with representatives from the religions of African origin and to formulate public policies that address the following:

  • The granting of tax-free status to temples of religions of African origin.
  • The attainment of official status for priests (Babalorixas/Ialorixas). Granting them national/official recognition as ministers of religion.
  • Grant full access for priests to hospitals and other institutions of the social welfare system.
  • Grant Civil recognition of marriages performed in temples of religions of African origin.
  • Uphold the right of a priest to be buried on the grounds of his/her temple.
  • Ban raids on temples by authorities without a court ordered warrant.
  • Allow professors from within the university system, in particular from the departments of history, anthropology, and sociology to teach and administer classes on the religion(s) (in the school system). Priests put this proposal forth from a wide range of religious denominations (with the exception of the Catholic Church) in the state of Sao Paulo in 1988.
  • Halt the broadcast of television and radio programs, and the distribution of print and internet material that humiliates, defames, satanizes, and discredits religions of African origin. This material incites and encourages their viewers and readers to discriminate against religions of African origin and their followers.
  • Initiate a national drive/program of awareness that would focus on reinstating basic rights for leaders within religions of African origin through seminars, conferences, and the publishing and distribution of educational materials.
  • Develop and awareness program geared towards priests of African based religions by means of publishing pamphlets, printing posters, and producing videos and other materials to disseminate information and instruction on exercising one’s basic constitutional rights.
  • Create and distribute a collection of laws, proposals, and treaties focusing on the rights of associations, groups, temples and religious priests.
  • Organize and execute a program with broad national reach that would involve lawyers trained and specializing in the legal aspects of the constitutional rights of religious groups, and the upholding of the rights of freedom of belief and religion.
  • Disseminate a body of international treaties related to the subject, as well as submit any written reports regarding accusations and complaints (of rights infringements and abuses) to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as well as other international forums and courts concerned with the protection of human rights.

Sao Paulo, May 21st, 2003
Iyalorixa Wanda D’Osun

In collaboration with Ogã Gilberto Ferreira de Esu, Ogã Dr. Hédio Silva Jr., and Prof. Mestre Petrônio Domingues

Rua Carlos Belmiro Correia n°1240- Casa Verde- São Paulo
Cep 02532010 Fones (11) 39550359 / 39663211
Iya Wanda

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