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Brazil scraps ban on Carnival religious signs

February 4th, 2010
Joao Pessoa

carnival in Rio

Judges in Brazil have scrapped a ban on religious symbols being displayed during Rio de Janeiro’s famed Carnival due to start in two weeks’ time.

The ruling overturned a 2007 decree issued by municipal authorities who thought the exhibition of crosses or statues of saints unseemly in a street parade where near-naked women are the norm.

The Rio judges said the ban constituted a violation of freedom of expression and was a form of censorship.

The Independent League of Samba Schools, which organizes the annual parades during Carnival, which this year falls February 12-17, said it would nonetheless observe a national law prohibiting the public vilification of religious objects.

Rio’s Carnival is one of the iconic images of Brazil. Thousands of tourists flock to the city to see the parades, which cost millions of dollars to put on and feature fantasy images mixed with the bare-breasted sensuality of dancing queens.

The event is embraced by 190-million strong population of Brazil, which is the biggest Catholic country on the planet.

The church first started protesting in the 1980s, prompting one of the samba schools, Beija Flor, in 1989 to roll out a provocative float with a replica of the Christ statue overlooking Rio, covered with a black veil and the words “Even if it’s forbidden, look at me.”

Other schools around the same time, notably in Sao Paulo, also subverted classic Catholic imagery by, for example, showing Jesus Christ being nursed by an indigenous Mary.

The archdioscese of Rio declined to comment to an AFP request for a reaction to the judges’ ruling.

A writer, Alberto Mussa, opined in the newspaper Jornal do Brasil: “Carnival is linked to the Afro-Brazilian culture. Censorship is a legacy of an elite that is still repelled by the Amerindian and African past” of the country.

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