Brazil ministry to schools: recite Bolsonaro slogan

February 26, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, students arrive for their first day of school, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The South American country's Ministry of Education sent instructions Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, saying that students returning from summer vacation should sing the national, recite a statement including President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” and it says they should be filmed doing so. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, students arrive for their first day of school, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The South American country's Ministry of Education sent instructions Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, saying that students returning from summer vacation should sing the national, recite a statement including President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” and it says they should be filmed doing so. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, students arrive for their first day of school, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The South American country's Ministry of Education sent instructions Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, saying that students returning from summer vacation should sing the national, recite a statement including President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” and it says they should be filmed doing so. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, students arrive for their first day of school, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The South American country's Ministry of Education sent instructions Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, saying that students returning from summer vacation should sing the national, recite a statement including President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” and it says they should be filmed doing so. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, students arrive for their first day of school, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The South American country's Ministry of Education sent instructions Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, saying that students returning from summer vacation should sing the national, recite a statement including President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” and it says they should be filmed doing so. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s Ministry of Education touched off an uproar Tuesday by instructing school administrators to read a declaration to students ending with a campaign slogan used by President Jair Bolsonaro during last year’s campaign.

Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who was elected in October, used the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.”

In the instructions sent Monday night, the ministry also said students returning from summer vacation should sing the national anthem. And it asked school staff to film the students reciting the anthem and send the footage to the ministry even though as students as minors would need parental permission to be filmed.

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The ministry backtracked Tuesday after the letter sparked anger and posed legal questions.

“I recognize the error,” Education Minister Ricardo Velez Rodriguez told reporters in Brasilia.

In a new note to schools sent Tuesday, the ministry removed Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan from the declaration and added that school staff should film only those students who give permission.

The second note said the footage will be for the ministry’s use and the activity is part of an initiative to value national symbols.

“It shows a total lack of knowledge about education and Brazil’s government that he instructed schools to recite a campaign slogan for a specific candidate,” said Fernando Penna, an education professor at Fluminense Federal University. “They’re using public power to spread a political message. It’s shocking.”

Penna said legal issues raised by the effort include the filming of minors and the prohibition against the government engaging in campaigning. Further, he said, the slogan’s mention of “God” is a challenge to Brazil’s separation of church and state.

Brazil’s vice president said in a radio interview Tuesday that the use of the campaign slogan was “against the law,” but applauded the idea of singing the national anthem.

Bolsonaro ran on a nationalist campaign and many of his supporters applauded the part of the request that involved singing the national anthem in schools. Some parents took to Twitter announcing they were giving their children permission to be filmed singing the anthem and the hashtag #NationalAnthemYes shot to the top trends on Twitter in Brazil.

The incident was the latest example of Brazil’s culture wars playing out in the classroom.

Bolsonaro and Velez Rodriguez, a Colombian theologist, support a movement called “Escola sem Partido,” or “Schools Without Parties.” It argues that Brazil’s public schools are swayed by leftists. They say teachers use lesson plans to “indoctrinate leftists” and encourage students to film their teacher’s lessons for proof of “indoctrination.”

“It’s really strange,” said Penna, the education professor. “He defends a movement called ‘Schools Without Parties’ and then tells all schools in Brazil to recite a campaign slogan.”