BY JANET TAPPIN COELHO©2013 Religion News Service
Amid concerns about police brutality, Brazilian military police officers are taking Bible study classes during their working hours to help them deal with stress and improve their personal and family lives.
The initiative teaches officers how to apply biblical concepts to everyday family matters and encourages them to search for biblical examples that give advice, guidance and solutions about family issues, including how to rear children, handle finances and build personal relationships.
The Moral Education Program was launched as a three-month pilot project in the capital Brasilia by the Federal District Military Police in partnership with the Sao Paulo-based University of the Family. More than 150 officers applied to join the project but only 70 have been selected to attend the two-hour weekly sessions because of limited space.
The Christianity-based course has hit controversy with critics arguing it is inappropriate for Brazil as a secular state — with a stated policy of neutrality on religion — to promote Christian teachings in a public institution. The military police is the civilian wing of the security forces and responsible for law and order on the streets, attending crime scenes and arresting suspects.
“The constitution clearly prohibits the dissemination of religious doctrine,” said Paulo Blair, a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Brasilia.
But a representative from the military police said while the secular state makes it clear that it will not favor one religion over another, it also means the state will not interfere with the operation of any religion.
“We see this course as a tool that can help our officers, said military police chaplain Gisleno Farias, coordinator of the program.
The program comes at a time when Brazil’s police are under increased pressure to restrain their heavy-handed tactics against anti-government protesters who took to the streets in the thousands this year to demonstrate against government spending policies, political corruption and the excessive amount of public funds invested in the construction of the 2014 FIFA World Cup stadiums and Olympic venues.