São Paulo passes religious freedom charter

São Paulo, Brazil - Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders and religious freedom proponents in Brazil say the passage this month of the Brazilian Charter of Religious Liberty helps galvanize freedoms of belief already established by the country's constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Meant to draw attention to the legal defense of civil liberties and human rights in São Paulo, the document was introduced November 10 by the Brazilian Association of Religious Freedom and Citizenship (ABLIRC) -- a partner of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA).

São Paulo, with nearly 18 million inhabitants, is Brazil's largest and one of its most influential cities, said John Graz, IRLA secretary-general. Graz said religious liberty proponents expect other cities to follow in accepting the charter.

"Brazilians are privileged to live in freedom," Graz, who attended the launch of the charter, told those gathered. With that privilege, he added, comes a responsibility to keep issues of religious liberty at the forefront internationally. "If a nation forgets its freedoms, it can easily lose them."

Aldir Soriano, a lawyer specializing in religious freedom who in 2006 began drafting the charter, said because some formerly free countries are now tightening religious liberties, nations that maintain strong protections of belief must be wary of slackening their support.

Brazil is listed under Category 1 by the Religious Freedom World Report, a ranking that recognizes the wide freedoms enjoyed by all religious communities in the largely Roman Catholic country.

Brazil is home to nearly 1.4 million Adventists.