BOOK: God in Public School

The controversy of religious teaching in Brazil


Religious education in public schools has always generated numerous controversies in several countries. Different conceptions of education, the role of religion in the organization of society and relations between the State and the Church are at stake.

In this book I present two diametrically opposed views on this subject in Brazil: that of Father Leonel Franca, SJ (1893-1948), founder of PUC-Rio (the first Catholic University in Brazil) and that of pastor João Soren (1908-2002), head of First Baptist Church of Rio de Janeiro from 1935 to 1985 and president of the Baptist World Alliance during the years 1960-1965.

In April 1931, President Getulio Vargas signed a decree authorizing the return of religious classes to Brazilian public schools, which had been banned by federal Constitution of 1891. A few months later, Leonel Franca, one of the greatest names of the Catholic Church in Brazil published a book extolling the decree, addressing pedagogical, social and legal aspects of religious teaching and discussing the differences between instruction and education.

On the other side, the renowned pastor – graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, U.S.), holder of honorary doctorates and several military decorations – wrote a scathing book against religious teaching in public schools. He understood that it severely threatened the separation between Church and State and would help extinguish religious freedom, which would be “the cornerstone of the majestic framework of human freedoms”.

My book brings to light the cultural and political environment of the years 1930-1940. The first chapter tells the rich history of Catholics and Baptists in Brazil. The following chapters display the arguments of both the pastor and the priest, with quotations that highlight their interests and concerns, as well as some fierce debates in the press and parliament. After huge controversy (It was the most discussed subject in the Constituent Assembly!), religious teaching entered the Constitution of 1934, remaining in Brazilian Law to this date.

The final chapter, entitled The Challenge of Freedom, closes the book with some distinctions between psychological freedom and moral freedom. As a conclusion, I invite the reader to reflect on this delicate theme by encouraging a frank and open dialogue on the different ways of seeing the world, avoiding misunderstandings that may generate tensions and conflicts, in institutions and in society.

São Paulo: Editora Reflexão, 2015. 95p.