SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Conservative Catholics, Evangelical leaders and right-wing politicians in Brazil have been showing their support to a priest who is under investigation for having allegedly incited acts of homophobia.

A state attorney in Pernambuco, in the northeastern part of Brazil, opened an inquiry earlier this month into Father Rodrigo Arruda, a priest in the city of Recife, by request of a local LGBT group.

According to a story published by the newspaper Jornal do Commercio, on June 30 Arruda criticized a then-recent ruling of the Brazilian Supreme Court, which criminalized homophobia and equated it to the crime of racism, in his homily.

Before the final blessing, Arruda again talked about the issue, accusing the Supreme Court of “judicial activism” and calling its decision as a kind of censorship.

“This is a gag. You can’t express something of scientific or religious nature that’s opposed to what these people [LGBT and supporters] think,” Arruda said, according to the story.

The priest also expressed concerns about the possibility of prison for people who express criticism of the LGBT community.

“It’s already possible to accuse someone of [committing this] crime and the person will be arrested, in the terms of the penal legislation,” he said.

In the end, Arruda encouraged the participants to sign a petition in support of a senator’s bill to impose restrictions on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We can’t be passive about that. So, you’re free to go there [he pointed to a spot at the entrance of the church] and you’ll find a petition.” Part of Arruda’s speech was recorded and published on the internet.

The text in support of the bill opposed what it called “the criminalization of common sense.” It said the Supreme Court could not make decisions contrary to the “opinion of the great majority of the Brazilian people.” The text also affirmed there’s “no epidemic of violent deaths caused by ‘homophobia’ in Brazil.”

Reports on violence against LGBT people in the country were repeatedly mentioned by the members of the Supreme Court during the debates that resulted in the criminalization of homophobia. According to the non-governmental organization Transgender Europe, Brazil tops the world list when it comes to the number of homicides of transgender people. In 2018, 163 transgender people were killed in the country.

In his brief explaining the arrest, the state attorney Maxwell Vignoli said his offices sent questions to the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife and that the archdiocese claimed “the priest’s speech was not homophobic, and it did not want to incite any kind of hatred.”

Church officials also declared the priest’s personal statements didn’t have any connection to the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife.

On October 18, the National Evangelical Forum of Political and Social Action, which brings together members of different Evangelical Protestant denominations, released a statement in support of Arruda which was published by the website Gospel Prime.

It said the inquiry “violates the fundamental right to the freedom of speech.”

“Nothing justifies silencing the voice of a religious minister only because it does not fit into the secularized sexual ethics,” the statement read.

The Forum declared that “freedom of conscience and of creed” and the freedom of religious activities are guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

Last week, the conservative Catholic group Confraria Dom Vital also released a statement in support of Arruda, saying that he “complied with his duty of being a good pastor.”

The group also said it has mobilized some of its members who work as lawyers to represent Arruda during the investigation, quoting the archconservative Society of Saint Pius X’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: “The Church is essentially priestly.”

The Catholic Congresswoman Chris Tonietto, a member of President Jair Bolsonaro’s conservative Social Liberal Party, also condemned the inquiry, posting on Facebook that “censorship and the crime of opinion have been instituted in Brazil.”

Tonietto said the Supreme Court’s ruling “disastrously equates homophobia and racism” and asked her followers to support another bill, which plans to criminalize the “usurpation of competence from the Executive and the Legislative powers by the members of the Supreme Court.”

Bolsonaro accused the court of “legislating” from the bench shortly after it issued the homophobia decision.

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