Rio judge declares Afro-Brazilian religions “are not religions”; retracts statement but long history of religious persecution continues

salvador - judge

Note from BW of Brazil: Although the controversy provoked by this decision started back in May and was only somewhat resolved in mid-June, the ramifications of the initial issue at hand are still important enough that it needs to be shared. With the Evangelical movement growing by the millions and threatening the domination of the Catholic faith in world’s most Catholic country, in 2014, Afro-Brazilian religions remained negatively stereotyped, associated with devil worship and persecuted. Religious persecution is yet another area in which Brazilian elites have consistently attempted to erase the very existence of Afro-Brazilians from the nation in an ongoing pursuit of Eurocentrism.

President Getúlio Vargas
President Getúlio Vargas

With the importation of African slaves came African religious beliefs and during the slavery era, Afro-Brazilian slaves hid their religious practices by pretending to worship Catholic saints with whom they matched to their own deities. Police repression of these rituals have a long history and in in 1939, President Getúlio Vargas revised Decreto-Lei 1.202 officially removing the practice of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé from the label of criminal activity. With Vargas’s act, as journalist Marcos Romão  reminds us, Africans and Afro-Brazilians should have in fact been able to freely practice their religious rituals, but this is not what happened. 

“The repression and intolerance of Candomblé continued. In order to perform religious ceremonies, the terreiros (houses of worship) needed to request authorization, acquire a license and pay fees imposed for the expedition of this document. The authorization was worthless and as it didn’t offer any protection, terreiros continued to suffer police raids that became increasingly violent. The practitioners of Candomblé continued to receive arrest warrants and suffered various forms of intimidation.”  Although such brutal repression eventually waned, verbal attacks and divulging of negative connotations remained widespread throughout the nation. Even today, there are those who often deny their adherence to Afro-Brazilian religions in order to avoid the stigmatization that comes along with the association. The increased popularity of the Evangelical church in Brazil has only added fuel to the fire in the widespread belief that the Candomblé and Umbanda religions represent the “work of the devil”. 

Today’s piece is yet another reminder that these religious rites continue to be persecuted in the 21st century

Federal Court defines that Afro-Brazilian cults, such as Umbanda and Candomblé aren’t religions

by Tiago Chagas

Candomblé (2)

The Federal Court in Rio de Janeiro issued a judgment in which it considers that “Afro-Brazilian cults don’t constitute religions” and “religious manifestations don’t contain necessary traits of a religion.”

The definition was in response to an action by the Ministério Público Federal (MPF or Federal Public Ministry) which called for the withdrawal of videos from YouTube of evangelical cults that were considered intolerant and discriminatory against religious practices of African origin.

The overseeing judge understood that for a belief to be considered a religion, one must follow a basic text – as the Sacred Bible, Torah, or the Koran, (Bíblia Sagrada, Torá or Alcorão in Portuguese) for example – and have a hierarchical structure, as well as a god to be worshipped.

Judge Eugênio Rosa de Araújo of Rio de Janeiro declared that Afro-Brazilian religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé are not religions
Judge Eugênio Rosa de Araújo of Rio de Janeiro declared that Afro-Brazilian religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé are not religions

The action of MPF sought the removal of videos by considering that the material contained apology, incitation, dissemination of hate speech, prejudice, intolerance and discrimination against practitioners of Umbanda, Candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian religions. “To get an idea of the contents in one of the videos, a pastor tells those present that they can close the terreiros of macumba (1) of the neighborhood,” said Regional Attorney for Citizens’ Rights, Jaime Mitropoulos.

According to the Justiça em Foco (Justice in Focus) website, the MPF will appeal the decision in first instance of the Federal Court to continue trying to remove the videos from the Google streaming platform.

“The decision is puzzling, because instead of conceding sought judicial review, it opted for the definition of what a religion would be, denying the various international instruments that deal with the matter (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Pact of San José of Costa Rica, etc..), the Federal Constitution and  Law 12.288/10. In addition, the act denies history and social facts about the existence of religions and the persecutions they suffered throughout history, disregarding altogether the notion that the religions of African matrix are anchored on the principles of orality, temporality, seniority, ancestry, not requiring a basic text to define them,” said Mitropoulos.

Judge corrects decision and considers Candomblé and Umbanda to be religions

After pressure from religious groups and the media, Eugênio Rosa considers the belief is unquestionable

Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions came together in front of the Zumbi do Palmares monument in downtown Salvador, Bahia to protest against the judges declarations and refusal to removal offensive videos from You Tube
Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions came together in front of the Zumbi do Palmares monument in downtown Salvador, Bahia to protest against the judges declarations and refusal to removal offensive videos from You Tube

 The judge of the 17th Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro, Eugênio Rosa de Araújo, reviewed the grounds of the judgment in which he had declared Candomblé and Umbanda not being religions but cults. The change of stance was announced on Tuesday (May 20) in a statement released by the press office of the Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro. In the text that acknowledges the error and change of the content of the sentence, he states that “the strong support given by the media and civil society, demonstrated, only in itself, and unquestionably, the belief in the worship of such religions.”

Eugênio Rosa, who had been the target of heavy criticism by the initial statement reinforces that he is promoting an “argumentative suitability for registering the perception of this Judge to deal with the Afro-Brazilian cults of religions.” Elsewhere in the new text, talking about religions, he justifies “their liturgies, deity and base text are elements that can crystallize themselves, in a way that is not always homogeneous.” In the original sentence, the magistrate had held that to be considered religion, a doctrine had to follow a book-base, such as the Koran or the Bible, for example, which didn’t happen, he said, with the beliefs of African origin.


He does not change, however, the content of the sentence in itself. The magistrate reiterated negative accord in the action filed by MPF in Rio de Janeiro calling for withdrawal of 16 YouTube videos deemed offensive to Umbanda and Candomblé. In the same note, via counsel, the Federal Judge informs that “maintain the rejection of the injunction for removal of videos on Google posted by the Universal Church and clarifies that his decision was based on the freedom of expression and assembly.”

The author of the action filed by the MPF that called for the withdrawal from circulation of the videos, lawyer and babalorixá Márcio de Jagun, received the news well. For him, civil society showed their unity and religions of African origin showed that “have not only social force but also political.” He wondered, however:

“Recognition of error is always welcome, but the ideal is that it was not the specifically result of popular pressure and that the Government recognized the national culture as part of their instruments. And, we know, religion is always part of the culture. We would be happier if he recognized that the videos should be removed.”

Judge orders removal of videos offensive to Candomblé on YouTube

Ministério Público Federal appealed the 1st instance in which federal judge denied request and said that Candomblé is not religion


After the controversy surrounding federal Judge Eugênio Rosa de Araújo, of the 17th Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro, who stated in court in a decision that Umbanda and Candomblé are not religions, advocates of religious freedom can celebrate. The judge of the Federal Court of the 2nd Region (Rio de Janeiro), Reis Friede, ordered the withdrawal, in 72 hours, of 16 prejudiced videos aired on the internet, which refer to African religions.

The Ministério Público Federal (MPF or Federal Public Ministry) appealed to the Federal Court against the first instance decision that did not recognize Afro-Brazilian religions and beliefs. The MPF filed the action, earlier this year, seeking the removal from YouTube videos offensive to Umbanda and Candomblé. The magistrate Eugênio Rosa de Araújo denied the request and argued that “Afro-Brazilian religious practices do not constitute religion.”

Representatives of religious organizations also delivered a petition with over a thousand signatures to the TRF. The document requests that the Court determine that Google remove air 16 YouTube videos considered offensive to Afro-Brazilian religions.


The decision of the rapporteur Reis Friede, of the 7th Specialized Panel, will still be subjected to a Judgement session, at the 7th Chamber of the TRF (date not yet set), so that the order is appreciated by the rest of the judge components of the group.

The Interlocutory Appeal – ​​The appeal by the MPF is relative only to the rejection of the injunction – which seeks the removal of the videos. The merit of the issue will be considered by the judge of the 17th Federal Court, Eugênio Rosa de Araújo, when the process returns to the 1st Instance.

Religious entities celebrate

The Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (CCIR or Commission Against Religious Intolerance) and the Associação Nacional de Mídia Afro (ANMA or National Association of Afro Media) extolled the news. The interlocutor of the CCIR, Ivanir dos Santos believes that the understanding the magistrate is a breakthrough for democracy.

Ivanir dos Santos
Ivanir dos Santos

“This is a victory for Brazil. Religions of African origin are part of the culture of the Brazilian people, regardless of beliefs. They always say that Umbanda and Candomblé go first to the fire, but then others will. This seed of fascism cannot bear fruit in a nation like Brazil,” said Ivanir.

The president of ANMA, Márcio de Jagun highlighted the arguments of the magistrate: “The rapporteur grounded his decision, in short, on the Brazilian Federal Constitution, as well as the international principles that establish so-called Human Rights.”


1. Macumba is a word of African (Bantu) origins. Macumbeira refers to a person that practices Macumba. Various explanations of its meaning include “a musical instrument”, the name of a Central African deity, and simply “magic”. It was the name used for all Bantu religious practices mainly in Bahia Afro-Brazilian in the 19th century. In the 20th century, these practices re-aligned themselves into what are now called Umbanda, Quimbanda and Omoloko. The term “macumba” became common in some parts of Brazil and it is used by most people as a pejorative meaning “witchcraft”. The word “macumba” is frequently used in Brazil to refer to any ritual or religion of African origin (as slang), and although its use by non-practitioners remains largely pejorative in intent (referring to all sorts of religious (or otherwise) superstitions and luck-related rituals and beliefs), and is considered offensive, its use among actual practitioners is not viewed negatively. In Brazil one can find expressions such as “chuta que é macumba!” (“kick it, for it be witchcraft!”) to show disagreement with bad luck. Source

Source: O Dia, G1, ANDIF, Gospel Mais, Mamapress

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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