An appeals court in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has ruled to reverse the conviction last year of two Christian evangelists for violating Brazil’s “hate crime” law. The landmark case involving evangelicals and Afro-Brazilian spiritists is the first to test a federal law declaring it a crime to “practice, induce, or incite discrimination” against members of another religion.
Umbanda and Candomble spiritist groups brought criminal charges more than two years ago against Baptist pastor Joaquim de Andrade, 42, and Anglican Aldo dos Santos, 34, claiming that gospel tracts they distributed at the annual Iemanja festival disparaged the African goddess Iemanja, and therefore violated Brazil's "hate crime" law.
They charged Andrade and Menezes with "inciting evangelicals to commit acts contrary to the liberty of religious belief."
During an April 16 hearing, a Sao Paulo judge found the men guilty of the charges and fined them the equivalent of about $300 each, warning them that if they did not stop proselytizing spiritists, they would face stiffer consequences next time.
The men, however, refused to pay the fine imposed and appealed the verdict.
"This is a precedent-setting case," said The Centers for Apologetics Research Director Paul Carden after the men were found guilty. "If Christians cannot freely share their faith with interested bystanders in a public place without the potential of some punishment under the pretext of having committed a hate crime, then this profoundly alters the spiritual equation in that country."
Now, thirteen months later, the charges have been dropped—a decision that Christians in Brazil hailed as upholding freedom of speech and their right to conduct personal evangelism in public places.
“The judges’ ruling came out favorably toward us because we are not breaking the law of our country,” Andrade told Compass after hearing the news. “There has been recognition that we have the right to give our testimony.”
Andrade added, “The tribunal recognized (verbally in our discussions) that the right to testify and evangelize does exist, given that there is no intent to invade a place of worship — as the law already forbids.”
“The arguments in the trial were, therefore, very positive in terms of guaranteeing expressions of one’s faith and the right to convey one’s religious convictions to others.”
The case is not yet fully resolved, however. The appeal decision has been remanded to Praia Grande officials for ratification, but sources in Brazil expect complete dismissal of the charges in due time.