SÃO PAOLO, Brazil, SEPT. 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The separation of Church and state should not mean the repression of religious ideas and public manifestations, says the archbishop of São Paolo.
Cardinal Odilo Scherer affirmed this in an articles in the archdiocesan newspaper in which he responds to an initiative proposed July 31 to remove religious symbols from public buildings in the city.
Those promoting the initiative pretend to base themselves on the Brazilian separation of Church and state.
The cardinal, however, explained that there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the presence of religious symbols on state premises.
“We understand well the state’s secular status: There is clear separation of state and Church, as opposed to the way it was before the formation of the republic, when Brazil considered Christianity its ‘official’ religion,” he said.
Cardinal Scherer affirmed that the Church has no problem with the fact that the state “does not have an official religion, but respects all of them and gives citizens the freedom to choose, also respecting the freedom to have or not have a religion.”
However, he continued, “the state’s secular nature also means that it does not interfere unduly with Churches and religions, respecting their internal autonomy to organize themselves, observing Constitutional principles.”
According to Cardinal Scherer, “the state’s secular status is invoked too often and too easily, and in a mistaken way.”
He continued: “Surely it does not authorize the repression of ideas or religious manifestations, unless they are clearly criminal, as in the case of incitement to violence or the promotion of dishonest acts.
“Nor could it promote the discrimination of citizens who profess a religion, denying them free access to public functions or to its exercise; neither does it authorize the preconceived disapproval of citizens’ positions or ideas because they are members of one or another religion; nor can it be invoked to impose on the whole of society a kind of ‘official thinking’ as the only valid one.”
According to the archbishop of São Paolo, the presence of religious symbols in public places “is part of the history and culture of the people and of their free manifestations: Up until now it has not been seen as contempt for or offense against religious liberty.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “their forced exclusion from public places from one moment to another could, in fact, arouse in many Brazilians, and not only Catholics, complaints and a feeling of lack of respect.”
“As experience has shown in more than 100 years of the republic, the maintaining of religious symbols in public places has not led to Brazil having an official religion,” the cardinal observed. “We should ask if Brazil would be better if religious symbols are eliminated.”