Brazil’s diverse ethnic and religious makeup is often compared with that of the United States, and tensions run high. It has a legacy of slavery, a marginalized indigenous population, large immigrant clusters, and a majority Christian population that clashes with Afro-Brazilian religions. But Brazil's approach to “hate speech” is starkly different than that of the US. From arresting an Argentine soccer player for racist shouts during a game, prosecuting a columnist in the Amazon for writing that government officials “could not stand the odor exhaled by Indians,” and ordering YouTube to remove the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” video due to its potential to incite intolerance – prejudiced comments are simply illegal in Brazil.
Despite a constitutional principle of freedom of expression, Brazilian lawmakers and law enforcement have drawn the line when it comes to agitating racial, religious, or ethnic tensions. And though the legislation is widely accepted as legitimate, even advocates of criminalizing intolerance say the best the law can do is make an offender hold his or her tongue, rather than change the racial and religious tensions that still run deep in Brazilian society.