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Brazilian Law and Religious Rights

Brazilian Law and Religious Rights

Charlyane Souza failed the Brazilian bar exam in São Paulo. But unlike other test takers who also failed the exam that day, Souza blames her result on the organization that administered the exam. While taking the exam, Souza, a Muslim, was wearing a hijab, a traditional headscarf. However, the Organization of Brazilian Lawyers (OAB) does not allow test takers to cover their heads during exams.

The OAB exam rule, on the surface, makes sense. It was created to prevent exam takers from wearing Bluetooth earpieces and getting answers from others. Even though Souza was wearing the hijab for religious purposes, she was removed from the testing room several times and questioned by exam officials. She was asked to remove her hijab, and when she refused, she was taken to another room to finish her test.

Souza claims that as a result of the interruptions, she had less time to complete the exam. This ultimately led to her only answering 31 of the 80 questions correctly. She needed to answer at least 40 questions correctly to pass that portion of the test.

Although Souza will be able to retake the test, her situation does create questions and concerns about how similar situations should be handled by the OAB in the future. Currently, Brazilian law bans discrimination based upon religion, but the law does not provide the same protection for discrimination based upon religious items or clothing. That could soon change. Souza’s lawyer has helped to submit a bill to Congress that would criminalize discrimination based upon religious clothing.

Damaris Moura of the Brazilian Bar Association said:

The association has been working for nearly a decade to guarantee religious freedoms, but it’s a work in progress. Given our role as proponents of these rights, we deeply regret Charlyane’s case. We will continue to fight for the rights of those whose faith has specific requirements.

Although Souza’s situation is unique in that she faced discrimination while taking the bar exam, discrimination against women wearing the hijab is not new to Brazilian culture. A few years ago, women in Foz de Iguaçu were banned from wearing the hijab in their driver license photos even though the federal government allows women to wear them in their passport photos. The law preventing women from wearing the hijab in driver license photos has since been overturned. Perhaps guaranteeing people religious rights is truly a work in progress.

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