Brazil: 49% of schools have obligatory religion classes


Brazilian public schools continue to teach religion classes; indigenous group is transferred to new locality amidst protest; and legitimacy of ‘traditional’ hazing put to question.


The secular State and religious education

The recent election of Pastor Feliciano to the Presidency of the Commission on Human Rights has once again brought to light the discussion of the division between Church and State.

Although Brazil is, in theory, a secular state, Catholicism and Christianity as a whole, have always been present in the government, even if in the form of crucifixes in official government buildings. Now, the online portal QEdu, gives an idea of the extent to which religion is part of the Brazilian public education system.

According to the portal, which uses official data from the Ministry of Education, 49% of schools have compulsory religious classes as part of their curriculums. 79% of these schools provide no alternative classes for those who do not wish to partake in religious education and training.

Students from other faiths, such as that of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion, have reported instances of discriminations from Catholic or Evangelical teachers, who attempted to convert them.

According to Luiz Antônio Cunha, professor of education at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, ‘the school does not ask the parents whether they want [their children to follow] religious training or [engage in] another alternative: stay out on the street, spend free time around the school, play soccer, etc.

This would only be optional if there were pedagogical alternatives. Since there aren’t, this becomes obligatory, which the Constitution says should be optional’.

Indigenous group transferred to new locality, amidst protests

On Friday, 22 March, the occupation of the Museu do Índio of Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Indigenous Peoples) ended, when a group of around twenty Brazilian Indians pacifically left the place, to be transferred to Colônia de Curupaiti in Jacarepaguá.

Their transfer to another locality was viewed by many groups as a disrespect for the rights of Indigenous populations. Dozens of activists gathered in front of the Museum, and were forcefully removed from the area after the military police intervened with gas bombs and pepper spray.

Upon leaving the locality, the Indians who occupied the place, along with forty activists who supported the occupation, lit up a two-meter-tall fire, which had to be put down by the Fire Department.

The provisory place, to which the group of Indians was taken to, was proven unfit for living on the first day of their arrival: strong rain inundated the building.

Public Defendant, Daniel Macedo, affirmed that he will accompany the case as a means of assuring that ‘this place is not only a lodging, to leave them there. There must be a dignified structure that allows them to live [well]’.

Freshmen hazing and university traditions in check

Various episodes of physical or psychological violence during ‘traditional’ welcoming practices at universities were recorded in the last couple of weeks throughout the country. From slavery to Nazi references, many of these instances have been characterised for placing freshmen in shameful or dangerous situations.

This year, the instances that gained the most media attention included that of using black paint on freshmen and tying them in chains, locking up students in rooms and fording them to drink large quantities of alcohol, nude appearances and sexual scenes mocking feminist groups who protested against the objectification of other women during the hazing period, and pressuring freshmen to steal vases in cemeteries, among others.

According to Professor Almeida Júnior, whose book, ‘Anatomia do Trote Universitário’ (‘Anatomy of University Hazing) discusses the topic in depth, ‘80% of the students who participated in the hazing, said that they went through, at least one activity, that they did not enjoy or that offended them’.

Students and universities often defend that the hazing is part of long-held traditions, and that abusive incidents are rare. Professor Almeida Júnior disagrees.

He affirms that ‘this has nothing to do with tradition, and that hazing is a matter of power relations. A political group disputes the control of the situation. A boy who goes to the street to ask for money [a common hazing activity] is the soldier of a hierarchy in which there is a general’.

About the Author

Maria Luiza Gatto
Maria Luiza Gatto is a first year doctoral student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, and a member of St. Antony's College. A comparativist, she analyses large datasets and field work-collected material quantitatively and qualitatively to study electoral systems, political institutions, women's political representation, gender-related policies, and Latin America. She currently teaches tutorials on Latin American Politics at the University of Oxford. She holds a M.Sc. in Politics Research (2012) from Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, and a B.A. (2011) from Barnard College, Columbia University.