Taubaté City Hall denies having banned religious demonstrations in schools
A circular that tried to prevent religious discrimination in schools in Taubaté (SP) ended up prohibiting the legitimate manifestation of beliefs and convictions. With the negative repercussion of the document, the Education Department of the City Hall sent other information to the schools, rectifying the initial circular.
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It all started with an anonymous complaint of “religious discrimination and violation of the Secular State” in a public school, sent to the Taubaté Public Prosecutor’s Office, against the municipality.
During the investigation, the Public Prosecutor’s Office asked the Municipality of Taubaté if there was a formal recommendation to schools on the subject. As it did not exist, the Department of Education decided on its own to write a formal guideline and send it to schools, last March 6th.
The text, however, ended up attacking the constitutional right to religious freedom and contradicting the decision of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) that considered confessional religious teaching in public schools to be constitutional, as long as it was optional.
What did the circular say?
The circular contained five rationales and three guidelines for schools. Among the justifications was the prohibition of any attempt to convert students to a certain belief, which is in fact provided for in the Constitution. The secularity of the State, on the other hand, erroneously appears as incompatible with a person’s public manifestation of his religion. Religious teaching, on the other hand, is described differently from the interpretation adopted by the STF, as if its content were forbidden to be confessional.
The last guideline was the most cited on social networks by teachers, parents and students: “The different ways of welcoming students, at the beginning of the class period, should be directed with words of encouragement and virtues without any reference of a religious nature”, says the document. The professors understood that they could be punished for using phrases such as “stay with God” or “God bless you”.
Lawyer Thiago Vieira, president of the Brazilian Institute of Law and Religion (IBDR), recalls that the “secularity of the State” must be interpreted in accordance with the Constitution: the State has no official religion, protects public manifestations of all beliefs and prohibits proselytism, understood as forcing someone to convert to a certain religious denomination.
“There is, in Brazil, total freedom and collaboration on the part of the State with the religious phenomenon, not impeding or hindering in any way the exercise of belief”, says Vieira. “The embarrassment of exercising belief in school is typical of French secularism, which does not exist in Brazil”.
For him, the item that prohibits teachers from welcoming students with phrases of a religious nature is “inappropriate”.
“The very term virtue is very present in the religious spectrum, it would be like preventing the thought and internal dimension of those who are welcoming the student”, he says. “Human actions are guided by each one’s conscience, including religious conscience, preventing this is a violation of the intimate and conscience”, he continues.
Vieira also insists that the professor cannot try to make someone change their religion and adhere to his own, “seek converts or proselytes”. “But exercising your belief and faith, in any space, is perfectly legal, in fact, it is inviolable, as stated in item VI of article 5 of the Constitution”.
The rectification of the City Hall
After the repercussion of the case, the Municipality of Taubaté (SP) sent another circular claiming that the guidance to the servers was so that, in their daily lives, they adopt behaviors that respect freedom of belief. “No order was issued preventing expressions of belief and personal convictions by teachers”, he claimed. Also, given the repercussions of the case, at the end of the note, the City Hall said “God bless you and guide you on this important journey”.
Circular from the Municipality of Taubaté (SP) in full
“Considering the doubts regarding Circular Letter No. 03, of February 6, 2023
The Secretary of Education clarifies. In compliance with the rules of the Federal Constitution of 1998 and the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education (Law No. 9.394/1996), the Department of Education issued guidance to employees of units of the Municipal Education System so that, in their daily lives, they adopt conducts that respect students’ freedom of belief and conscience, preserving tolerance and respect for all religious manifestations, in addition to the character of the State, that is, the absence of an official religion. No order was issued preventing the manifestation of belief or personal convictions for teachers. What was advised is that the participation of students should not be imposed, the embarrassment to the acceptance of this or that faith and/or the attempt to convince to enlist the faithful, disrespecting the neutrality of the State, pluralism and freedom of conscience. May God bless and guide you on this important journey.“
*Collaborated by Gabriele Bonat.