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Brazil: Federal Supreme Court Authorizes Religious Education in Public Schools

(Oct. 6, 2017) On September 27, 2017, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) dismissed, by a majority vote (6 to 5), a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (Ação Direta de Incosntitucionalidade, ADI)  in which the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Procuradoria-Geral da República, PGR) questioned the model of religious education in the country’s public school system.  (STF Conclui Julgamento Sobre Ensino Religioso nas Escolas Públicas, NOTÍCIAS STF (Sept. 27, 2017); ADI 4439, STF (last visited Oct. 3, 2017).)

The PGR had argued that religious teaching in public schools cannot be linked to a specific religion and the hiring of teachers as representatives of religious denominations should be prohibited. The PGR also contended that the teaching of religion as a discipline, registration for which is optional, must be changed to a course on the history and doctrines of the various religions taught from a secular perspective.  (STF Conclui Julgamento Sobre Ensino Religioso nas Escolas Públicas, supra.)

The President of the STF, Minister Carmen Lúcia, who was the last of the justices to vote on the ADI, followed the opinion initially presented by Minister Alexandre de Moraes, who voted for the dismissal of the ADI and said that religious education in Brazilian public schools is confessional in nature, that is, linked to different religions.  (Id.)  According to Carmen Lúcia, “the secular nature (laicidade) of the Brazilian State did not prevent the recognition that religious freedom imposed duties on the State, one of which is to offer religious education as an option.”  (Id.)   She further stated that everyone agrees with the secularity of the state of Brazil, its religious tolerance, and the fundamental importance of the freedoms of belief, expression, and manifestation of ideas.  (Id.)