Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Official says Indonesia has freedom of religion

JAKARTA (JP): Past practices of prohibiting major religions have been based on political motives and not theological considerations as the state itself acknowledges the freedom of all faiths, including Judaism.

"The government has never had a problem with the theological teachings of any religion," the Ministry of Religious Affairs' Research and Development Agency chief Djohan Effendy told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He added that recent limitations to the practice of Confucianism was politically motivated by the previous government in response to the 1965 abortive Communist coup.

He claimed that only one faith was officially banned for theological reasons and that was Jehovah's Witnesses at the demand of the Indonesia Communion of Churches.

Djohan stressed that such prohibitions were not related to the Ministry of Religious Affairs but to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Attorney General's Office.

"It's all a matter of politics, not religion," he remarked.

When asked about the government's recognition of only five religions, Djohan remarked that it was a long-held public misperception that only Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism were acknowledged by the state and others were prohibited.

He contended that there has never been any written regulation defining this.

"The only ruling that's ever mentioned the five main religions was a regulation about identity cards (KTP), where people have to choose between the five religions," he added, noting that it was issued during Amir Machmud's tenure as home minister from 1973 to 1978.

According to Djohan, a presidential decision issued in 1962, and enacted in 1967, states that six religions, including Confucianism, were recognized and did no close the door on other major faiths to develop here.

"It was written that Confucianism was included as the sixth religion along with the other five," Djohan remarked.

He claimed that it was also cited that the Jewish religion was also cited as an example of other faiths which may develop here.

Former Supreme Advisory Council member Junus Jahja told the Post that he had also heard of the regulation.

"Whether it's real or not is no longer relevant. The government no longer has authority to recognize (or ban) a religion," Junus said, adding that it is also irrelevant to demand a religion be listed on an identity card.

"What's the point of putting your religion on a KTP?" he remarked.

Djohan also suggested the government relax rules requiring permits when constructing places of worship.

He argued that if surrounding communities had no objection then there should be no restriction to building one.

"If people want to build a brothel then they should ask for a permit, but not for building houses of worship!" he remarked.(04)