U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Brazil

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 3,286,487 square miles, and its population is approximately 178 million (according to the 2000 census). Nearly all major religions and religious organizations are present in the country. Many citizens worship in more than one church or participate in the rituals of more than one religion. The 2000 census indicated that approximately 74 percent of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholic, although only a small percentage regularly attend Mass. Approximately 15 percent of the population is Protestant, an estimated 85 percent of whom are Pentecostal or evangelical. Evangelical churches have grown rapidly and have challenged the traditional dominance of the Catholic Church. Denominations include the Assemblies of God, Christian Congregation of Brazil, and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists account for most of the remaining Protestants and are centered in the south, where the majority of German and northern European immigrants concentrated during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The census counted approximately 374,000 adherents of "Buddhism and other oriental religions." Shintoism is practiced to a limited degree in the Japanese-Brazilian community. There were 27,239 Muslims (a figure that probably undercounts the actual total), 25,889 practitioners of Spiritualism, 17,088 adherents of indigenous traditions, and 2,905 Hindus. An estimated 7 percent did not practice any religion. Approximately 384,000 participants did not respond to the census.

Followers of African and syncretistic religions such as Candomble, Xango, Macumba, and Umbanda constitute an estimated 4 percent of the population. Candomble is the predominant traditional African religion practiced among Afro-Brazilians. It centers on the worship of African deities brought to the country as a result of the slave trade. Syncretistic forms of African religions that developed in the country include Xango and Macumba, which to varying degrees combine and identify indigenous animist beliefs and Catholic saints with African deities. The capital of Bahia state, Salvador, where most African slaves arrived in the country, is considered the center of Candomble and other traditional African religions. As a result of internal migration during the 20th century, Afro-Brazilian and syncretistic religions have spread throughout the country.

Followers of spiritism, mainly Kardecists – adherents of the doctrine expounded by Frenchman Allan Kardec in the 19th century – constitute roughly 1.3 percent of the population, with 2,262,401 followers, according to the 2000 census.

Leaders of the Muslim community estimate that there are from 700,000 to 3 million Muslims, with the lower figure representing those who actively practice their religion, while the higher estimate would include also nominal members. These figures are much higher than the 27,239 Muslims reported in the 2000 census. Muslim leaders have never taken a formal count of the number of Muslims; however, they believe that the official census greatly underestimated the size of their community. Sunni and Shi'a Islam are practiced predominantly by immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt who have arrived in the country during the past 25 years. A recent trend has been the increase in conversions to Islam among non-Arab citizens. There are approximately 55 mosques and Muslim religious centers.

Approximately 100,000 citizens identify themselves as Jewish. There are an estimated 45,000 Jews in Rio de Janeiro and approximately 29,000 in Sao Paulo. Many other cities have smaller Jewish communities.

The following religious holy days are observed as official, national holidays: Saint Sebastian's Day, Ash Wednesday, GoodFriday, Corpus Christi, Saint John's Day, Our Lady of Carmen ("Carmo"), Assumption Day, Our Lady Aparecida, All Souls Day, Evangelicals Day, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and several evangelical organizations, operate freely throughout the country. The local Institute for Religious Studies indicates that there are 2,981 foreign Protestant missionaries and approximately 3,000 foreign Catholic priests in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

There are no registration requirements for religions or religious groups. There is no favored or state religion, although the Government maintains a Concordat with the Vatican. All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize. There is a general provision for access to religious services and counsel in all civil and military establishments. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The Government restricts the access of nonindigenous persons, including missionaries, to indigenous reserves and requires visitors to seek permission from the National Indian Foundation to enter official indigenous areas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. In April 2003, legal representatives of Umbanda and Candomble spiritist groups sued two Christian Evangelicals for violating the "hate crime" law by distributing evangelistic tracts that allegedly disparaged Iemanja, an African deity, and for proselytizing spiritists at their annual festival in Praia Grande. A judge found the accused guilty of charges and fined them $300 (1,000 reais). The defendants filed a petition to have the decision annulled, claiming precedent-setting implications for religious freedom should Christians be barred from sharing their faith with interested bystanders in a public place. The appeal resulted in a dismissal in favor of the Evangelicals, and, as a result, the fines were overturned.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom, although a natural rivalry exists among various religious groups vying for greater numbers of adherents. The influence of evangelical churches is growing. There is no national ecumenical movement. The National Commission for Religious Dialogue brings together Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders.

Anti-Semitism is rare; however, there are signs of increasing tension between Jewish persons and Muslims. Leaders in the Jewish community expressed concern over the continued appearance of anti-Semitic material on Internet web sites compiled by neo-Nazi and "skinhead" groups. There were no reports of violent incidents directed at Jews, although there were reports of anti-Semitic graffiti, harassment, vandalism, and threats via telephone and e-mail. In September 2003, the Supreme Court upheld a 1996 Rio Grande do Sul state court conviction of editor Siegfried Ellwanger for racism. Ellwanger edited and wrote anti-Semitic books. The lower court's ruling sentenced Ellwanger to a prison term of two years, although this sentence was converted to community service.

There was no reported progress in the investigation of the shooting death in Sao Paulo of the Vertero Catholic bishop in February 2003.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.


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