MIAMI, Florida, USA, July 16, 2004 — A court in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has ruled in favour of two Christian evangelists who appealed their conviction last year of violating Brazil’s “hate crime” law. The landmark case involving the distribution of gospel tracts to Afro-Brazilian spiritists is the first to test a federal law declaring it a crime to “practice, induce, or incite discrimination” against members of another religion.
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.
The following do not constitute religious intolerance:
Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.
Christians in Brazil hailed the decision as upholding freedom of speech and their right to conduct personal evangelism in public places.
“We can certainly continue evangelistic work on the beaches, in the streets, in plazas and through all communications media in Brazil,” Baptist pastor Joaquim de Andrade, one of the defendants in the case, told Compass by telephone from Los Angeles, where he learned of the decision.
“The judges’ ruling came out favourably toward us because we are not breaking the law of our country,” Andrade added. “There has been recognition that we have the right to give our testimony.”
Representatives of the Umbanda and Candomble spiritist groups brought criminal charges more than two years ago against Andrade and Aldo dos Santos of the Anglican Church. Andrade is the principal organizer of the “Coast for Christ Crusade” in which volunteer evangelists present Christianity to participants at the annual Iemanja festival held in the beach town of Praia Grande on the Atlantic coast.
Spiritists claimed that gospel tracts prepared by Dos Santos for the event disparaged Iemanja, an African deity they worship as “Goddess of the Sea.” They accused Adrade and Dos Santos of violating Federal Law number 9.459, which declares it a crime to “practice, induce, or incite discrimination or prejudice against race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”
The law mandates one to three years in jail and a fine for offenders.
On April 16, 2003, Sao Paulo Judge Osvaldo Palotti, Jr. found Andrade and Dos Santos guilty of the charges and fined them each 1,000 reais (about $300). He warned the men to stop proselytizing at the spiritists’ festival, or face stiffer penalties next time.
Andrade and Dos Santos refused to pay the fine and filed an appeal of Palotti’s decision.
Their case received support from University of Sao Paulo law professor Dr. Davi Teixeira, who filed a motion asserting judicial irregularities in the case. Teixeira cited the absence of the district attorney during the hearing and the judge’s refusal to allow defendants to confer with their legal counsel, Dr. Cicero Duarte, as grounds for the appeal.
More importantly, Teixeira contended that the plaintiffs’ case was not sufficient to prove a violation of the law.
Three justices on the appeals panel, Dr. João Morengui, Dr. Figuereido Gonçalves and Dr. Deviene Ferraz, agreed with the defendants’ arguments that their evangelistic activities did not constitute a crime.
“The tribunal recognized (verbally in our discussions) that the right to testify and evangelize does exist, given that there is no intent to invade a place of worship — as the law already forbids,” Andrade said.
“The arguments in the trial were, therefore, very positive in terms of guaranteeing expressions of one’s faith and the right to convey one’s religious convictions to others.”
Andrade, 42, co-directs a research and training ministry called the Agency of Religious Information, known by its Portuguese acronym AGIR. The group supplies information about the teachings of non-Christian religions and prepares interested individuals to share their faith with followers of non-orthodox cults and New Age adherents.
The case is not yet fully resolved — the appeal decision has been remanded to Praia Grande officials for ratification — but sources in Brazil expect complete dismissal of the charges in due time. However, given AGIR’s bold outreach agenda, Andrade expects to face more challenges in the days to come like that mounted by the Afro-Brazilian spiritists.
“The persecution is not going to end,” he said. “We have constitutionally guaranteed rights that affect those who worship idols, who practice witchcraft, and homosexuals.
“So they do what they can to impede evangelistic work. They are going to try to get us arrested and keep us from carrying out evangelization.”