The Federative Republic of Brazil is a secular and democratic sovereign state in South America with a population of around 202 million. Often described as an emerging world power, it is the fifth largest country in the world by both population and area, and one of just 17 countries worldwide classed as “megadiverse” due to its abundant natural resources and wildlife. Aside from having the world’s largest Catholic population (130 million people, or 64.6% of the population), Brazil also appears as one of the top ten most religious countries in the world. According to the 2012 Gallup Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, 85% of Brazilians describe themselves as religious. Protestantism is the second largest faith, of which adherents make up approximately 22% of the population. There is also a relatively large non-religious community that makes up around 8% of the population, with the small remainder split between indigenous spiritism, Islam and Judaism.

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Constitution and government

The preamble to the Brazilian constitution declares that society shall be founded “under the protection of God”. In spite of this and the country’s very high level of religiosity, Article 5 of the constitution enshrines the freedoms of religion, conscience, belief, and expression.

Freedoms of thought, conscience and expression are protected by the constitution and other laws. In practice, these freedoms are generally respected and upheld. Reports of heavy-handed police tactics and the use of excessive force persist in various forms including some abuses at large-scale peaceful public protests and some reports of police intimidation against human rights defenders.

Section 5, Article 5 states: “Freedom of conscience and of belief is inviolable, the free exercise of religious sects being ensured and, under the terms of the law, the protection of places of worship and their rites being guaranteed”, while Section 7 of Article 5 affirms that “expression of intellectual, scientific, and communications activities is free, independently of censorship or license”.

There is no official state religion. Article 19 of the constitution outlines the secular nature of the state which separates church and state, and prohibits the government to “establish religious sects or churches, subsidize them, hinder their activities or maintain relationships of dependence or alliance with them or their representatives”, though sources suggest that religious groups have an increasingly strong influence in the political arena.

There are no registration processes required for the establishment of religious groups, all of which are tax exempt regardless of denomination. Religious groups are able to establish places of worship, proselytize and preach openly without impediment. As a richly spiritual society inclined to syncretism, inter-faith relations are generally positive.

Far-right threat

On 7 October 2018, during the first round of elections, the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote, just a few points shy of the 50 percent majority needed to win outright. On 28 October 2018 there will be a runoff election which could have huge implications for Brazil. The country is already in an historically high recession and faces endemic corruption.

Jair Bolsonaro offers an ultra-conservative agenda, his speeches filled with openly and harsh misogynistic, racist, anti-LGBT and anti-democratic views. His incitement is already reported to be having an impact, with a sharp escalation in violence and hate towards all kinds of minority groups recorded.

During one of his pre-election broadcasts Bolsonaro said, “We will govern for everyone, even the atheists.” However, his major religious demographic focus has been on institutionalizing Christianity, arguing for obligatory crucifixes and the provision of Bibles in legislative buildings. Bolsonaro has the support of many among the rising and powerful Brazilian evangelical community, who regard Bolsonaro as “the answer to their prayers”.

Education and children’s rights

Religious education is provided in all schools, but must be optional, as protected by Article 210 in the constitution: “the teaching of religion is optional and shall be offered during the regular school hours of public elementary schools”. However there are some reports that up to 49% of schools have compulsory religious classes as part of their curriculum.

Family, community and society

FIFA World Cup protests

The months of May-July 2014 saw mass demonstrations against perceived injustices in the use of public funds used for the 2014 FIFA World Cup alongside various other social issues and grievances. Multiple sources alleged heavy-handed tactics employed by the police. Amnesty International Brazil said that “the violence meted out by the security forces over the course of the World Cup was excessive, unnecessary and a direct threat to peaceful protest”.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The press is private and pluralistic with dozens of daily newspapers, television and radio stations across the country. However, there are reports of journalists being harassed or receiving death threats, especially journalists that cover stories of police or state corruption or organised crime.

The internet is unrestricted across the country and intellectual and academic freedom is upheld.


The Brazilian Penal Code contains a de facto blasphemy law which renders “crimes against religious feeling” a punishable offense. Article 208 states that to “mock someone publicly, by reason of belief or religious function; prevent or disrupt ceremony or practice of religious worship; publicly vilify act or object of religious worship: Penalty – detention of one month to one year or a fine”. Whilst this law is on the statute books, in practice, it does not appear to have been used to prohibit or obstruct the criticism of religion. However, the Reporters Without Borders report on blasphemy laws in 2013 mentions that a Brazilian court succumbed to pressure in ordering Google to withdraw videos from Youtube that contained passages from the controversial Youtube video “Innocence of Muslims”.

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