Brazil’s religious liberty advocates think that a bill recently passed by a committee in the Chamber of Deputies — the nation’s Lower House — is a milestone for students who observe the biblical seventh-day Sabbath in that South American nation. Members of the Constitution, Justice, and Citizenship Committee (CCJ) passed Senate Substitute Bill 130 of House Bill 2009 on November 27, 2018. The bill deals with the administration of exams and class attendance of students who are unable to attend on religious and freedom-of-conscience grounds.
The piece of legislation, drafted by the Senate, received “conclusive approval,” which means it will not go to a plenary session of the Chamber but now awaits the president’s signature. It is expected that after the president signs it, the text of the bill will be included as Article 7-A in the National Education Guidelines and Bases Law.
What It Entails
Leaders said that in practice, Sabbath-keeping students attending public or private schools now have a legal instrument which guarantees their freedom of conscience and religious beliefs are taken into account. “The text provides for the right of students at any level — except in military education — to skip exams or classes on their day of worship when their faith objects to such activities,” they explained.
The CCJ, which discussed the bill, included alternatives that schools granting exceptions may resort to. Among the alternatives they mentioned are replacement exams or classes and the offer of alternate dates to fulfill class requirements. They also listed replacement research projects, with topic, objectives, and deadlines defined by each educational institution.
Official records show that Representative Marcos Vinícius de Campos proposed a similar bill in 1997. According to Federal Chamber records, however, that bill was tabled and finally filed in February 1999.
Religious Freedom Guaranteed
The bill’s sponsor in the CCJ, federal deputy Maria do Rosário, reviewed the nature of respect for freedom of religious expression. She emphasized that Article 5 in Brazil’s Constitution guarantees that religious freedom is inviolable and must be safeguarded. And she added, “No one will be deprived of his or her rights because of religious belief or philosophical or political conviction.”
South American Division Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) director Helio Carnassale said the approval was a major victory for religious freedom, especially for the thousands of students who observe religious days. He also paid tribute to those who helped to reach this outcome. “Many have contributed through the years, including representatives and church leaders,” he said as he mentioned some of them by name.
Church leaders explained that it is difficult to determine how many students will benefit from this new piece of legislation. There is, however, a revealing figure associated with the bill.
“The last survey by the Ministry of Education found out that around 100,000 Sabbath-keeping students took the National High School Examination in Brazil,” they said.