A Week-long Celebration of Religious Freedom Takes Center Stage in Brazil’s Largest City
Report from South American Division Staff
Symposiums, public events, and meetings with city, state and national leaders aimed to raise public awareness of religious liberty challenges and to spark new action.
A packed agenda of events and high-level protocol visits marked “Religious Freedom Week” in the Brazilian city of São Paulo May 24 to 27. The celebrations were coordinated by Seventh-day Adventist Church member and State Congresswoman Damaris Moura, an attorney and long-time religious freedom advocate in the country, who organized the week of events in partnership with the Religious Freedom and Citizenship Association (ABLIRC). A special guest for the celebrations was Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, who also serves as Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association.
Various events held around the city brought together religious leaders, civil authorities, government officials, political representatives and human rights associations, such as the São Paulo’s branch of the Brazilian Attorney’s Order. The purpose of the celebrations, according to organizers, was to “promote wide public respect for different beliefs in the face of the many tragedies and massacres that have occurred in the name of religion.” Various symposiums focused on the foundational role played by religious freedom in society and the challenges of religious intolerance.
Since 1995 in Brazil, the practice of discrimination or prejudice against religions has been considered a crime. Statistics from the Ministry of Human Rights show that, nation-wide, an incidence of religious intolerance occurs every 15 hours, and adherents of religions of African origin are among the main targets. The State of São Paulo has the highest percentage of instances, with just over 29 percent of reported occurrences of religious intolerance.
It is this reality that prompted Congresswomen Damaris Moura, founder of the Religious Freedom Commission at the Brazilian Attorney’s Order, to propose the creation of Religious Freedom Week. Although May 25 has been celebrated in the State since 2014 as “Religious Freedom Day,” Ms. Moura believed the issue deserved even greater public attention.
Throughout the week, a delegation of religious freedom leaders, led by Dr. Diop and Congresswoman Moura, took part in a series of visits with civic leaders. They met with the mayor of São Paulo, Bruno Covas; the president of city councilor´s chamber, Eduardo Tuma; the president of the Legislative Assembly of the State of São Paulo, Cauê Macris; and, the state governor, João Dória. They also visited, in Brasília, federal district, with the president of the Federal Supreme Court, José Antonio Dias Tófoli.
According to Congresswoman Moura, the week of events was “a major breakthrough in the fight to promote religious liberty and to raise public awareness and interest this subject.”
In all, some 7,000 people took part in Religious Freedom Week, at regional events, such as the forums in Mogi das Cruzes and Sorocaba, in Adventist churches, and at a major symposium held at the Adventist University Center of São Paulo (UNASP).
Just as important as these public events, said Congresswoman Moura, were the various protocol visits, which called the attention of civic leaders to the realities of religious intolerance, and encouraged them to create solutions and programs to combat these challenges.
“It is not enough to just organize forums, meetings, events, or even to create new laws,” said Congresswoman Moura. “We have to reach out to the top administrators of the city and state so that laws move from paper and become effective programs that educate and guide everyone.”
“It is only this way,” she explained, “that we can leave for our descendants a more humanized society that respects the right of all."
This was a theme echoed in presentations given by Dr. Diop throughout the week.
"When we celebrate religious liberty, we are indeed celebrating humanity itself, and the right of belief that every human being possesses by its nature of his or her own free will,” said Dr. Diop. “Regardless of the name each society gives to its creator God, there is a common belief in the great majority of religious cultures that freedom to express oneself according to one’s own beliefs and traditions is an inviolable human right.”
Globo TV, Brazil’s largest television network, interviewed Dr. Diop about Religious Freedom Week, and the report was aired the same day in the daily news program, SPTV 1st Edition.
Other events during Religious Freedom Week included the 161st Forum of Religious Liberty and Citizenship, held in the city of Mogi das Cruzes, where Dr. Diop spoke to some 200 civil and religious leaders.
On May 25, more than 1,500 people attended the Congress of Religious Liberty and Citizenship at the Adventist University Center of São Paulo (UNASP), located in São Paulo’s Capão Redondo district. Dr. Diop gave a lecture and participated in a round-table discussion with Congresswoman Damaris Moura and Labor Judge Francisco Giordani, along with the president of the São Paulo’s city council, councilor Eduardo Tuma, and the president of the Brazilian Association of Religious Liberty and Citizenship (ABLIRC), Samuel Luz.
The following day, a training session was held for leaders of the Regional Forum of Religious Liberty of the Adventist Church’s Brazilian Central Union. In the evening, the “162nd Forum of Religious Liberty and Citizenship” was held in the nearby city of Sorocaba. Civil and religious authorities attended this event, which included a performance by the local Adventist college students’ choir.
May 27 was focused on protocol visits, beginning with the São Paulo City Mayor, Bruno Covas, at the municipal administration building. Also attending were the City Council president, Eduardo Tuma, and the municipal secretary of the Civil House, João Jorge. During the meeting, Congresswoman Damaris Moura suggested the creation of a special office to monitor occurrences of religious intolerance in the city São Paulo, which with 11.5 million inhabitants, is among the most populous cities in the world.
The final visit for the day was with São Paulo’ State governor, João Dória, in the Palace of the Bandeirantes, the official State Administration Building. During the conversation with Dr. Diop and Congresswoman Moura, the governor pledged to assist in advocacy for religious liberty, and to include human rights and religious liberty as topics in the "Life Project"—a program to be implemented in the state's education network, which cares for some 5 million students.
The day ended with a solemn session held in the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo to mark the State Day of Religious Liberty. Dr. Diop spoke at the event, which was attended by political leaders and representatives of a broad range of the many religious denominations present in Brazil.
The week of celebrations ended May 28 with visits to federal civic leaders in Brasilia, including federal deputy Gilberto Nascimento in the Chamber of Deputies; Minister José Antonio Dias Toffoli, President of the Supreme Federal Court, and Dr. Sérgio Queiroz, National Secretary for Global Protection, which is part of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.