Brazil’s Banknotes Still Praise God, for Now (N.Y.Times)

November 13, 2012, 6:03 PM


A close view of the Portuguese words for A close view of the Portuguese words for “God Be Praised” on Brazil’s currency.

A federal prosecutor in Brazil is seeking a court order to force the central bank to replace the nation’s entire supply of paper currency with bills that do not display the phrase “God Be Praised,” the newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported on Monday.

The prosecutor, Jefferson Aparecido Dias, whose office defends the rights of citizens in the city of São Paulo, said he had received a complaint last year about the use of the phrase. He argued in a 17-page motion filed on Monday that the words “Deus Seja Louvado,” which have appeared on notes of the Brazilian real since 1986, violate the rights of non-Christians and nonbelievers.

Although he acknowledged that most Brazilians are Christian, the prosecutor wrote, “The Brazilian state is secular and, as such, should be completely detached from any religious manifestation.” To make his case that the phrase was inappropriate, he asked the court to consider the reaction of Christians if the nation’s currency included calls to worship figures revered by Muslims, Buddhists, observers of Candomblé or Hindus — or a statement endorsing atheism. “Let’s imagine if the real note had any of these phrases on it: ‘Praise Allah,’ ‘Praise Buddha,’ ‘Hail Oxossi,’ ‘Hail Lord Ganesh’ or ‘God does not exist,’ ” he said.

Writing on Twitter, the archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer,wondered if anyone even noticed the phrase, which is rendered in tiny letters on the notes.

Você já percebeu que as notas Real tem uma rederência a Deus? Há alguém querendo tirar. Que v. Acha?

The cardinal also said in a statement: “The phrase should make no difference to those who do not believe in God. But it is meaningful for all those who do believe in God. And those who believe in God also pay taxes and are most of the population.”

Brazil’s central bank had previously replied to the complaint by arguing that the religious reference was valid because the preamble to the Brazilian constitution explicitly states that the democracy was formed “under the protection of God.” The bank’s response to the prosecutor added that the state, “not being atheist, anticlerical or antireligious, can legitimately make a reference to the existence of a higher being, a divinity, as long as, in doing so, it does not make an allusion to a specific religious doctrine.”