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Pastor Hélio Carnassale, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America, speaks at the first of a series of division-wide training events, encouraging laypeople to understand how they can defend and promote religious liberty in their local area. Photo: Felipe Lemos/South American Division

South American Training Series Equips Defenders of Religious Freedom

Almost 500 Seventh-day Adventists participated in the first South American religious freedom training event, held on the São Paulo campus of Brazil Adventist University (Unasp). The event, which took place June 4, will serve as a model throughout Brazil and seven other South American countries, and is intended to build on the church’s already strong focus on defending and promoting freedom of religion or belief.

According to PARL leadership in South America, the event represents a paradigm shift for the church’s approach to religious liberty work. The Adventist Church on South America has conducted countless forums and congresses through the years celebrating religious liberty. However, now the focus of the denomination in the region will be training—preparing Adventist Church members in every region to defend religious freedom where they live.

“This is the first big event for training Adventist religious liberty leaders,” explains Pastor Hélio Carnassale, Adventist Church Religious Liberty leader for the eight South American countries of the division. “This is a change in strategy that prioritizes a more effective work at the local level. And then we will celebrate this practical activity in religious freedom festivals. One thing without the other does not work.”

In order to defend religious liberty, Adventist Church members must develop a relationship with civil and religious authorities, says Pastor Carnassale. He adds that this relationship must not be understood as ecumenism, but rather, getting close to other religious groups must be a way to celebrate and defend the right to worship and profess a faith.

  • Religious liberty leaders gave advice on how to defend religious liberty in everyday life. Photo: Felipe Lemos/South American Division

  • Almost 500 church members came together on Sabbath, June 4, to learn how they can actively promote and defend religious freedom in their local communities. Photo: Felipe Lemos/South American Division

  • Damaris Moura speaking June 2 at the celebration of the 10 years of the Law and Religious Liberty Committee of the São Paulo branch of the Brazilian Bar Association. Photo: Felipe Lemos/South American Division

Adventists are active in many religious liberty organizations in South America, including the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), the Brazilian Religious Liberty and Citizenship Association (ABLIRC), the National Evangelistic Lawyers Association (ANAJURE) and in committees that work with religious liberty in several regional branches of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB). These institutions defend liberty of the choice and exercise of any faith for all people, and even for those who do not believe in God. The Law and Religious Liberty Committee of the branch of the Brazilian Bar Association in São Paulo, for instance, has among its 37 members a lawyer who represents atheists.

Damaris Moura, an Adventist Church member and chair of the Law and Religious Liberty Committee of the Sao Paulo branch of the OAB, says that “religious liberty is essential for the Church to fulfill its purpose.”

Moura says Brazil is witnessing an “escalation of religious intolerance.” She made the statement on Thursday, June 2, during a ceremony that celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the committee that Moura chairs.

Even though Brazil is considered a country with few restrictions to religious liberty, according to a ranking developed by the US-based Pew Research Center, the country has been recording data showing an increase of religious intolerance. In the past five years, for example, the Human Rights Department phone number (Disque-100), an emergency telephone number to call to report human rights violations, has increased 3,706% in reports that relate to religious intolerance.

Alcides Coimbra, PARL director for the state of São Paulo, the Internet has contributed to spread the hate speech towards different belief groups. In the last year, it was released a manifest for the end of religious intolerance on the Internet that can be signed here.

The training series which began with the June 4 event in São Paulo is an initiative of the department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the South American headquarters of the Adventist Church. PARL leaders from eight South American countries also participated in the program, helping attendees learn strategies for defending freedom of belief and worship in their local areas.

Report from Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, South American Division