It took eight changes between 1942 and 1986 for Brazil to settle on a national banknote, and it seems the current design still doesn’t please everyone. Although the Brazilian real has been printed with the phrase Deus Seja Louvado — or “God Be Praised” in Portuguese—for 26 years, a federal prosecutor in the country is now aiming to change that, the New York Times reports.
The prosecutor, Jefferson Aparecido Dias, is seeking a court order to make the central bank replace Brazil’s entire stock of the bills with new notes that do not bear the spiritual phrase, according to the Times and Folha de São Paulo. Aparecido Dias, whose office deals with civil rights cases for São Paulo residents, said his request was prompted by a complaint he received last year. In his 17-page motion, he contends the religious reference violates the rights of Brazil’s non-Christians, the New York Times notes.
Nearly 90 percent of Brazilians identify as Catholic or Protestant, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, but Aparecido Dias is arguing that the nation’s currency should reflect the nondenominational nature of its government.
“The Brazilian state is secular and, as such, should be completely detached from any religious manifestation,” the prosecutor reportedly wrote.
He said Brazilian Christians would be offended if the bills endorsed a different spiritual path.
“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,’” Aparecido Dias said, according to Times.
São Paulo’s archbishop, Cardinal Odilo Sherer, tweeted that he doubts many people notice the currency’s reverent expression, which is printed in tiny letters on the bills. He also issued a statement in response to the prosecutor’s request.
“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,” the cardinal wrote, based on the Times’ translation. “And those who believe in God also pay taxes and are most of the population.”
(MORE: Sarah Palin’s Coin Conspiracy)
According to the New York Times, Brazil’s central bank has argued that “God Be Praised” is an acceptable part of the notes, as the preamble to the nation’s constitution declares that the democracy was created “under the protection of God.” The bank further maintained that because the government is not “atheist, anticlerical or antireligious” it 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.”
The United States has grappled with similar debates about the use of religious wording on its bills. “In God We Trust” has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and paper notes since 1957, and secular complaints against the phrase have sprung up periodically in recent decades. In 2006, a California doctor filed a lawsuit against Congress seeking to purge the words from U.S. currency, claiming their inclusion infringed on his rights as a nonbeliever. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit, which came soon after the Supreme Court denied a challenge to remove an inscription of the same phrase from a government building in North Carolina, the Associated Press noted.
No ruling has been reached in the Brazilian case, but the U.S. currency’s phrase has historically been defended as a ceremonial “national motto.”