Brazilian congressman sues site for satirical video, accuses it of hurting religious freedom

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  • February 3, 2014

By Travis Knoll

The Delegation for Racial and Intolerance Crimes (Decradi) of the Brazilian state of São Paulo will open an investigation into a controversial video posted by the online website Porta dos Fundos to determine if any laws protecting religious freedom were broken, O Globo reported.

The action raised concerns among some journalism organizations like the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism, which said the case illustrates the tensions that arise between religious protections and freedom of expression.

The video "Especial de Natal" satirizes one of the Bible's Three Kings as a thief, God as an old man having an affair with Mary, and the Crucifixion as an ordinary construction job, aired on Dec. 23. According to newspaper Folha de São Paulo, it has drawn sharp rebukes from Brazil’s religious sector drawing a quick rebuke from São Paulo´s bishop Dom Odilo Scherer who asked “Is this humor? Or is it religious intolerance disguised as humor? Very bad taste.”

The video prompted a lawsuit by Congressman Marcos Feliciano (PSC-SP), former head of the  Chamber of Deputies Human Rights and Minorities  Commission (CDHM in Portuguese), who is seeking 1 million reais (around $410,000) in reparations for moral damages from the website for offending religious sensibilities. Feliciano, who has supported other conservative causes in the past, said he will give the money to the Holy House of Charity should he win the suit.

Newspaper O Globo underscored the negative reactions on social media to the video. A petition by religious activist group CitizenGo has also appeared online asking Grupo Petrópolis, Porta dos Fundos’ parent company, to withdraw its support from the site. Opponents of the video have also started a “dislike” Facebook campaign against it. The approximately 52,000-strong Facebook group “I am Catholic and Proud of It” also called for followers to speak out against “blasphemy.”

Porta dos Fundos has over 7 million followers, making it one of the most successful internet channels in Brazil. Fábio Porchat, one of the founders of the outlet, told O Globo that the group goes after all religions and even non-believers, but that "Especial de Natal" was satire and not meant to target believers.

Abraji said it was necessary to balance religious sensitivity with freedom of expression. Highlighting a report from Reporters Without Borders, which recommends that blasphemy and religious satire not be categorized as a violation of human rights, the organization noted that Brazil -- where religious defamation is still a crime -- is an anomaly when it comes to limiting speech in the name of religion. The head of the Americas division of RSF, Benoit Hervieu, pointed out that religion still holds plenty of political influence in Brazil despite an official separation of Church and State.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.