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When do politics and religion meet? How one influences the other in Brazil

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

The encounter between politics and religion is a complex topic, which provokes debates in different social and political contexts. In Brazil, a constitutionally secular country, the historical condition of the Catholic Church is responsible for the constant conditioning of culture and political values ​​in the public sphere. Doctor of Sociology Renan William Santos states that politics often works as an institutionalized translation of values, where religious beliefs play a significant role. Therefore, the challenge lies in translating these principles universally, ensuring they are understood and respected by individuals from diverse religious backgrounds.

How does religious freedom work in politics?

 The Brazilian legislation guarantees religious freedom, especially in Article 5 of the Constitution, which states that “freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, the free exercise of religious cults is guaranteed and, by the law, the protection of places of worship and their liturgies”.

In the political sphere, the laws state that the expression of religious preference or the act of favoring a specific religion is prohibited by Article 19 of the Federal Constitution. In other words, public power and religion must be separated.

In this way, politicians have the right to practice their individual beliefs in the private sphere. When elected, they begin to represent not only their supporters but the entire population of the corresponding federative unit.

The encounter between politics and religion in Brazil

Like other countries, Brazil also faces the complex dilemma of how to balance the separation between politics and religion. The Journalist and social scientist Thales Guaracy explains that the secularity of the State is fundamental for the preservation of democratic principles, guaranteeing equal rights regardless of any factor. However, “when a religion also becomes an organization with political influence, it seeks to favor the group of interests that a church protects”, says the expert.

Guaracy recalls the approach of Jair Bolsonaro’s government (2019-2022) with evangelical churches, “the preference in distributing official propaganda resources to TV Record, linked to Universal, an evangelical church, was clear. It is, therefore, a preference for a group of interests that come together around a religious identity or justification”, he explains.

To understand this phenomenon, it is necessary to go back to the history of Brazil, marked by the presence of the Catholic Church since the beginning of colonization. This religious influence dates back to the times of the Society of Jesus and the Inquisition, reflecting a period in which the separation between Church and State was practically non-existent.

However, as Guaracy highlights, the separation between these two institutions is essential for the healthy functioning of a democracy. The Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls political theology the speeches that claim the presence of religion in the public sphere.

For him, the complexity of this reality can be observed in two groups. Pluralists recognize the relevance of sacred texts in the political structuring of society but defend the autonomy of both politics and religion. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, argue that sacred texts must be the structural basis of society in all its facets, being considered independent of the social context, and must be interpreted literally.

For Guaracy, this second group, represented by fundamentalist movements, represents a threat to democratic dialogue, as it replaces political negotiation with the imposition of religious dogmas.

The issue of the “evangelical bench”

Given this context, the performance of the so-called “evangelical bench” in the Brazilian political scene raises questions about democratic representation and the guarantee of rights for all citizens.

The evangelical bench, also known as the Evangelical Parliamentary Front (FPE), is a group of parliamentarians that includes not only evangelicals but also Catholics and spiritualists. They come together to promote a “moral agenda” and defend conservative agendas, such as the prohibition of abortion, the fight against gender ideology, same-sex marriage, and other issues related to morality and religion.

In 2017, in the Chamber of Deputies, members of this group were successful in approving an amendment that prohibits abortion in any situation. In 2019, they showed support for the Pension Reform proposal. In 2020, a large majority, representing 76% of its members, voted in favor of the printed vote, despite it being rejected by the majority of Chamber members.

On the other hand, the doctor in sociology Renan William Santos analyzes that evangelical churches face a constant struggle for space, “but on a political level, they know how to articulate themselves very well. They are not based on moral issues, but on ‘mundane’ issues, such as maintaining IPTU exemption, achievements, debt forgiveness, labor regulations for pastors, construction issues, material advantages”, he states. For the specialist, “it is rarely issues related to values, that is not what they are fighting for there”, he adds.

Regardless of the intention, both professionals analyze this group as a dysfunction or even a threat to democracy, as they target private interests and not the public.

The influence of religion on the adoption of public policies

Therefore, the participation of religious movements in defining public policies can be considerable, especially in a predominantly Catholic state like Brazil. They have the power to pressure and influence the actions of the State and public authorities. For example, issues such as abortion, contraception, stem cell research, and same-sex unions are areas in which religious movements can play a significant role.

Finally, Guatacy analyzes that the growing influence of religions in politics does not only occur in Brazil. “It is behind the fundamentalist movements, which have been taking over the State in the poorest countries, starting with those in the Middle East and Africa. Religions may differ, but the basis of the process is the end of dialogue, the basis of democracy, as there is no negotiation through religious discourse, which is always dogmatic”, he states.

For him, the State must recover its ability to govern, that is, to promote social well-being equitably, with the creation of opportunities and the guarantee of rights for all. “This is the only way to reduce intolerance, which is the form of pressure from interest groups who, by persecuting and embarrassing different or even divergent people, take up more space. Democracy does not make one religion or another prevail; on the contrary, it must be a guarantee of harmonious coexistence and progress for all”, adds journalist and social scientist Thales Guaracy.


The article above was edited by Beatriz Gatz and translated by Julia Tortoriello.

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Victória Abreu

Casper Libero '25

Estudante de jornalismo na Cásper Líbero, pisciana curiosa, gosto de aprender e falar de tudo um pouco