Law That Protects the Right to Keep Sabbath Is Sanctioned in Paraná

South American Division

Law That Protects the Right to Keep Sabbath Is Sanctioned in Paraná

Law 20,958, enacted January 2022, provides for the right of dismissal and alternative solutions regarding academic activities on Saturdays

Brazil | Jessica Guidolin

Sabbath-keepers in Paraná now have Law no. 20.958, authored by Deputy Artagão Junior, in their favor. The law guarantees the right to dismissal and alternative solutions when faced with activities that occur during the time of the Sabbath, that is, from sunset Friday to sunset on Saturday.

The law, which was enacted on January 10th of this year, actually reinforces what is already in Federal Law no.13,796, of January 2019. However, it includes specifications and extends the right not only to students, but also to teachers in public and private institutions, in order to remedy the different interpretations that hitherto hampered the fulfillment of this right.

Deputy Artagão mentions that despite the Federal and State Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, in practice, this was not happening in many situations. With the sanction of the new law, it is expected that the processes will be facilitated.

“We have several teachers and students who come to us for guidance on what to do. And, most of the time, we have to work with the political issue to resolve a legal issue. They [institutions] said that the law was not… specific and clear, that it did not say what we knew it was saying. Federal law emphasized students. So, we made this new law that talks again about students, alternatives, tests and assignments, but also mentions servers. In other words, what we have guaranteed to students is also guaranteed to teachers and servers. There is no longer any doubt,” he declares.

For the Director of the Religious Liberty Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern Brazil, Pastor Rubens Silva, this is a victory that contributes to the work that is already being done in this area and that deserves to be celebrated and replicated.

“The achievement of Law No. 20,958 is immense. At the present time, it is the crowning of several other positive moments of religious freedom, such as the authorization for the Enem [National High School Exam] to take place on two Sundays. At União Sul Brasileira [the administrative headquarters of the Adventist Church for Southern Brazil], we have been working with religious freedom through the Regional Forum for Religious Freedom (FORLIR), which operates in the nine fields of our Union. With this state law, we have a direct benefit to be widely worked on by the four fields located in Paraná. The expectation is that this law is, who knows, the green light so that the other two states [Santa Catarina and the Rio Grande do Sul] can also have this support for religious freedom”, analyzes the pastor.

Of course, in this group of Sabbath-keepers are Seventh-day Adventists. Today, Paraná has more than 80,000 members. Among them, almost 18,000 are people between the ages of 7 and 24, who are usually in school or entering a higher education course.

Medical student, Paula Fuji, experienced times where her religious freedom was questioned. In high school mechanics, the young woman had her first experience of religious intolerance. At the time, Paula had two courses on Saturdays, which were not offered on another day of the week as an alternative.

“When a little more than half of the course was over, I went to talk to the coordinator, explaining that I was a Sabbatarian, that I kept the Sabbath, and if there would be a way for this discipline to fall at another time. So, he told me that there was no other way and that I had to review my religious convictions if I wanted to continue as a coach”, she recalls.

Even though she was upset at first, she prayed to God and had a conviction that she would not attend classes on Saturdays. Later, Paula managed to rearrange the discipline and validate it at another institution, and with that, she postponed graduation for six months.

In college, the student noticed a slightly more friendly environment, even in the face of situations that conflicted with keeping the Sabbath, such as extracurricular internships, called leagues. Most of them take place on Fridays or Saturdays. An internship that was of interest to Paula would have the test held on a Thursday. She signed up for the process. Obtaining this internship was her goal for the year. However, the event date was rescheduled due to the pandemic and scheduled for a Friday night.

Paula reveals that these situations are always difficult, but luckily she managed to find a solution. The sixth-period student knows that many challenges lie ahead. “It's a whole inconvenience for you to have to explain and take the test another day, or set up another test for you. As much as I wanted to, I had asked God to do His will. In the end, I managed to take the test [on another day]. There will be several other challenges, especially at the boarding school, where the workload is longer and I know they have classes on Saturdays and difficult internships [that will] have to be reassigned (...), but [through it all], I can see that God has taken care of all things.”

Eva Stempniak Accetti also encountered difficulties on her journey. She has been a teacher in the state system for 10 years and a Seventh-day Adventist for 13 years. Even having found superiors and directors in her trajectory in different schools who understood her religious option, the situation was never easy. According to the teacher, when a request for exemption on Saturdays is presented to the school, the institution communicates with the Education Center, and they, in turn, return the request claiming that there is no law that supports it in this regard.

“Every time we have [an activity] on Saturday, we suffer a lot. Especially in the year 2021, it was very complicated, because very few Saturdays were not worked. Even if the school dismisses us, this causes us annoyance for not having anything in writing that supports us, even if we have the Brazilian constitution that talks about freedom of worship. If we have something in writing, and come to the Education Centers, and say that we are guaranteed by law, it becomes easier, because there is no way to question it”, she says.

She reinforces, “At no time did I see God far from me. God builds bridges to reach those people who can help us. Now with this law, I believe that God came to tell us not to give up because it is worth it.”

How To Proceed?

Artagão advises that any student who keeps the Sabbath and comes across situations that harm him, or prevent him from carrying out his academic activities because of his religious belief, must first submit an administrative request.

It is necessary to go to the institution's secretary and formally request the exemption from the class, as well as alternatives to carry out work that compensates for absences, proving the student's dedication to learning, as well as test dates that do not conflict with Saturday. The application is usually accompanied by some documents, including a pastoral letter certifying that the student in question is a baptized and regular member of the church.

With these documentations, the deputy advises to also include the Federal and State printed laws, which emphasize this right.

If there is resistance, Artagão continues:

“If this request is denied, administratively speaking, even with all the legislation we have that assures us this right, a lawsuit may eventually be necessary. But, we want to believe that today, with the laws we have, the problems, for the most part, will be overcome in the administrative phase.”

Regarding the servers, the path is similar: submit a request to the administration of the institution with a pastoral letter and printed laws.

Proclamation of Faith

More than the contesting for a right, the law can be used as a witnessing tool. Artagão believes that the whole context, not just Sabbath-keeping, is an opportunity to witness.

“I've heard many situations where people say: 'Why don't you do like the guy, who just takes the test and leaves?' This is a bad testimony. Witnessing is not just about being absent from class on Friday or Saturday, it is also connected to your lifestyle on other days. I think we have to take these opportunities to get the message across. And the message can be said, but it can [also] be lived, and when it is lived it is much stronger. The example is much more [impressionable].”

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site.