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Brazil: Is State-Funded Evangelical ‘Gospel Park’ Unconstitutional?

The governor of the Brazilian state of Acre, Tião Viana, a member of the ruling Workers Party (PT), caused controversy early in October 2011 by announcing his personal support – and state support with public money – of the construction of the country's first ‘Gospel Park’.

The main reason for the negative reactions of many bloggers, journalists and Twitter users is the use of public funds to build a park that would only benefit members of the Pentecostal evangelical religion, something forbidden by the Constitution. The use of public funds is prohibited from sponsoring and financing works, monuments and places used for religious proselytizing.

Journalist and blogger from the state of Acre, Altino Machado, explains [pt]:

The Federal Constitution of 1988 is bigger than the bible. Image created by Eli Vieira, under CC.

The Federal Constitution of 1988 is bigger than the bible. Image created by Eli Vieira, under CC.

O Parque Gospel, que ocupará uma área de 6 hectares, terá ginásio, campo de futebol, quadras polivalentes, centro de formação, restaurante, piscina e trilhas para caminhada na floresta.

Idealizado pelo deputado Henrique Afonso (PV-AC) [Partido dos Verdes no estado do Acre], o primeiro Parque Gospel brasileiro será construído dentro de uma área que foi desapropriada pelo governo estadual para construção de 10 mil casas populares para famílias com renda mensal de até três salários mínimos.

The Gospel Park, which occupies an area of ​​6 hectares, will have a gym, soccer field, multipurpose sports field, training center, restaurant, pool and walking trails in the forest.

Designed by Congressman Henrique Afonso (PV-AC) [Green Party in the state of Acre], the first Brazilian Gospel Park will be built within an area that was expropriated by the state government to build 10,000 housing units for families with a monthly income of up to three minimum wages.

The construction of the planned gym will cost between 15 and 20 million reais, and about 5 million reais per year will be given by amendments from the Union Budget to keep the park running. The sole cost of the park, according [pt] to journalist Paul Lopes, will be 7 million reais, of this 4.5 million will be paid by the state.

The right to a secular state

Blogger Conceição Oliveira (Maria Frô) questions [pt] the creation of an evangelical park:

Minha pergunta é, vai ter parque de terreiro de Candomblé, Umbanda, Espiritismo? Parque budista,  hinduista? Parque católico, parque judeu, parque muçulmano?

My question is, will there be parks for the Candomblé, Umbanda, Spiritism [religions]? A Buddhist park, Hindu? Catholic park, Jewish park, Muslim park?

Journalist Paulo Lopes remembers [pt] that Brazil is a secular state:

Pelo fato de o Estado brasileiro ser laico, o governo do Acre não poderia financiar uma obra que atende aos interesses de líderes evangélicos. Apesar disso, não tem havido nenhuma resistência à construção do Parque Gospel.

By the fact that the Brazilian state is secular, the Acre state government could not finance a project that serves the interests of evangelical leaders. Nevertheless, there has been no resistance to the construction of the Gospel Park.

Marcelo Gerald, at the blog Eleições Hoje, repudiating [pt] Governor Viana's decision, writes:

O Estado Laico existe justamente para garantir a todos os cidadãos a liberdade de  fé e crença.

O Estado erra quando deixa de cumprir seu papel, que é garantir as liberdades e garantias fundamentais de todos os cidadãos, para atender um grupo religioso.

The secular state exists precisely to guarantee to all citizens freedom from faith and belief. 

The state makes an error by failing to fulfill its role – which is to ensure the freedoms and fundamental rights of all citizens – in order to participate in a religious group.

"State/Religion". Image under CC by marchaestadolaico.wordpress.com

"State/Religion". Image under CC by marchaestadolaico.wordpress.com

He adds that the governor participated a few days earlier in a “March Against Heterophobia” [pt] sponsored by evangelical religious groups, supporting his claim that “human rights were and still are disrespected in all countries where state and religion are mixed.”

The President of the Acre PT, Leonardo Brito, on Twitter, in response to some angry comments, argued [pt] that the construction of the Gospel Park “does not compromise the secular state,” and that “the state cannot shut itself (…) to the social work that several religious denominations do with efficiency”:

@leodopt: @MarkosOliveira @wrighini (…) visto que seus fins estão adstritos aos fins do Estado, como o fomento ao esporte, à cultura e ações sociais.

@leodopt: @MarkosOliveira @wrighini (…) bearing in mind that their ends are attached to the ends of the state, such as encouraging sport, culture and social action.

Lawyer Thiago Fiago questions [pt] the Workers Party:

É de causar, no mínimo, indignação que num Estado onde certamente há muitos problemas a ser resolvidos (educação, segurança, saúde, habitação, saneamento básico etc.) o governo de um histórico petista (cadê os princípios do partido? Por que a vista grossa dos dirigentes petistas?) se proponha a encampar tal projeto.

It causes at least outrage that in a state where there are certainly many problems to be solved (education, safety, health, housing, sanitation, etc.), the government with a “petista” history [“petista” refers to members of the Worker's Party, PT] (Where are the principles of the party? Why are the PT leaders overlooking this?) proposes to encompass such a project.
Religious celebration in the state of Acre - Celebration of  São Sebastião in Xapuri. Photo of the Acre News Agency on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Religious celebration in the state of Acre – Celebration of São Sebastião in Xapuri. Photo of the Acre News Agency on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

He adds, commenting on the limits imposed by the Constitution:

É verdade que “ações e políticas [estatais] devem atender aos interesses de todos os grupos sociais, étnicos, religiosos e políticos”, mas na exata medida dos limites que a Constituição impõe: no tocante às religiões, o Estado pode, no máximo, travar uma colaboração de interesse público (como a assistência religiosa em presídios, da qual discordo, mas não vem ao caso analisar).

It is true that “actions and [state] policies shall serve the interests of all social, ethnic, religious and political groups”, but at the exact extent of the limits imposed by the Constitution: as far as religions, the state can at most catch a collaboration of public interest (such as religious assistance in prisons, of which I disagree, but consider that's not the case).

Journalist and lawyer Rachel Moreira (who also works as the communication secretary of the state of Acre) has a different point of view [pt]:

Quer queiram ou não, quase 50% da população de Rio Branco é evangélica, segundo pesquisa OFICIAL, feita pela Secretaria de Segurança Pública, e tudo indica que ainda vamos crescer ainda mais nos próximos anos. Portanto, as políticas públicas também são para esse público; o dinheiro do Estado, arrecadado com impostos de todos, deve também nos beneficiar.Estou cansada de “intelectualóides”, que não reconhecem Jesus Cristo como filho de Deus, dizem reconhecê-lo como um grande líder e pensador, mas que em suas disciplinas científicas de Sociologia e Filosofia sequer o estudam como tal. Sabe por quê? Puro preconceito.

Whether you like it or not, almost 50% of the population of Rio Branco [capital city of Acre] is evangelical, according to an official survey, conducted by Department of Public Safety, and everything indicates that we will grow even further in coming years. Therefore, public policies are also for the public; state money, collected from everyone's taxes, must also benefit us. I'm tired of “intelectualóides” [intellectuals] who, not recognizing Jesus Christ as God's son, say they do recognize him as a great leader and thinker, but that in their scientific disciplines of sociology and philosophy they don't even study him as such. You know why? Pure prejudice.

Reactions on the Twittersphere

Federal Deputy Sibá Machado, from the Acre PT,when questioned, defended the construction of the park with public money:

@Sibamachado13: @minerobrazao Do lado religioso, um templo de orações; do lado turístico, muitos visitantes. É auto sustentado.

@Sibamachado13: @minerobrazao From the religious side, a temple of prayer; from the touristic side, many visitors. It's self-sustaining.

A hashtag #ParqueGospelNao (#NogospelPark) has been created and many jokes related to the issue have circulated [pt], with suggestions of toys for the park and music that should be played there. Many have criticized the use of public funds, such as Professor Tulio Vianna, who also questioned [pt] the situation of hospitals in the state, and the student Jurdy Junior.

The psychologist Alessandra Nane, in a series of tweets, left a few questions, among them:

@Ale_sandra_: [Porque] não construir o bendito parque pra atividades sociais e esportivas e contemplar a população [toda]? [Porque] tem que por palco pra pastor?

@Ale_sandra_: [Why] not build the damn park for social and sporting activities and contemplate the [whole] population? [Why] do they have to give a stage to a minister?

Francisco Aragão, the Chico Capeta, commented on the idea of an ecumenical park:

@chcapet: Quer testar pra ver quem é intolerante? Sugiram um Parque Ecumênico no lugar de Gospel no Acre e me contem a reação dos pastores depois

@chcapet: Want to test to see who is intolerant? Suggest an ecumenical park instead of a gospel one in Acre and tell me the reaction of the ministers later

Caio Cezar, an evangelical, positioned himself against the park:

@caiope: sou evangelico mas sou contra parque gospel no acre. o dinheiro publico é pra ser investido em recursos para a população #parquegospelnao

@caiope: I am evangelical but I am against the gospel park in Acre. Public money is to be invested in resources for the population #parquegospelnao

Professor Idelber Avelar posted the link of the Facebook page of the Public Ministry (Prosecutors) of Acre, for the citizens to denounce the violation of Article 19 of the Federal Constitution through the building of the Park.

On October 25, journalist Altoino Machado informed [pt] that federal prosecutors opened an investigation about the use of public funds in the promotion of religious proselityzing.

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