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Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approves student’s right to be absent from exams for religious beliefs

Landmark bill moves forward for presidential sanction

Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approves student’s right to be absent from exams for religious beliefs

[Photo courtesy of the South American Division]

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In a landmark decision, members of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Committee (CCJ) approved the Clean Bill made by the Senate to Chamber Bill 130 from 2009 (originally Bill No. 2,171, of 2003, authored by federal representative Rubens Otoni)The approved text deals with the application of tests and attribution of attendance to students who are unable to attend school for reasons of freedom of conscience and religious belief. The content will, therefore, be incorporated into legislation by inserting Article 7-A into the National Education Guidelines and Bases Law.

In practice, students from public or private school gain respect for their conscience and belief. The text provides the right to students at any level (except military education) to be absent from the test or classes scheduled for a day that, according to their religious beliefs, prohibits this type of activity. By the approval of the CCJ, alternatives were provided. These may include testing or taking a replacement class on an alternative date, during the student's study period, or at another scheduled time; or providing another written assignment or research activity, with subject, objective and date defined by the educational institution.

A similar proposal was made in 1997 by then federal representative Marcos Vinícius de Campos. It was not actually filed in the Federal Chamber until February 1999.

Guaranteed religious freedom

Federal representative Maria do Rosário, the rapporteur for the bill in the CCJ, emphasized the respect for freedom of religious expression. She recalled that the Federal Constitution, in its fifth article, guarantees that this type of freedom is inviolable and must be guaranteed. She added that "nobody will be deprived of rights because of religious belief or philosophical or political conviction.”

The director of Public Affairs for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America, Helio Carnassale, pointed out that this was a major victory for religious freedom, especially in the case of thousands of students observing religious days. "Many contributed to getting here. I want to emphasize the commitment and support of Rubens Otoni, Senator Pedro Chaves, Maria do Rosário, Uziel Santana, President of ANAJURE, representative Leonardo Quintão, and recent support from federal representative Aguinaldo Ribeiro and senator Daniela Ribeiro,” he said. Carnassale also recalled the "role of Adiel Lopes, as well as lawyer Vanderlei Viana and the Adventist administration in South America."

The approval in the CCJ was conclusive, so it will not go to the Plenary of the Chamber, but directly to be sanctioned by the president of the Republic. It is difficult to determine how many students, due to religious belief, will benefit in Brazil with this measure. The last survey carried out by the Ministry of Education indicated that Sabbath-keeping students, who took the National High School Examination, represented around 100,000 people in the country.