Religious organizations divided over bill on religious harmony
JAKARTA (JP): Religious organizations are divided over the need for a bill on "religious harmony". Some fear it could be used as an instrument to inhibit the preaching of religion and conversing of peoples of other faiths.
The divergent views came to the fore as representatives from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) and the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI) rejected the bill while the Representation of Indonesian Buddhist Community (Walubi) and the Indonesian Central Council for Dharma Hinduism (PHDI) sat down to discuss the possibility of such a bill at the House of Representatives.
During the hearing with the House's Commission VI for education, religious affairs, sports, research and technology, only MUI openly loaned its full support to the bill.
PGI Chairman Sularso Sopater was adamant that such a bill would violate the Declaration on Human Rights on freedom to practice religion.
"People are not ready for it," Sularso asserted.
He contended that freedom of religion includes the liberty to spread religions as far as it was not done forcibly.
Sularso suspected that the bill would only strengthen a 1969 joint decision between the Religious Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry which forbids spreading and preaching religion to people of a different faith.
The decision also states that the construction of houses of worship requires the permission of local residents.
PGI and KWI have been at the forefront of calls to revoke the decision which, as it stands, has no legal sanctions.
Due to the spate of religious conflicts, legislators have been toying with the idea of introducing a bill to help foster religious harmony through, among others, regulating the preaching of religion and the use of religious symbols.
KWI's executive secretary M.J. Notoseputro said the bill was only a guise for the state to meddle in religious affairs.
"There is no country that regulates religions. It's a personal matter and related to human rights," Notoseputro argued.
He contended that it was not the role of the government but of religious institutions such as MUI, PGI and KWI which need to be enhanced.
Notoseputro then cited President Abdurrahman Wahid who earlier asserted that the state should not meddle in religious affairs and leave it to the general public.
Sularso also pointed out that it was a misperception that clashes in places like Maluku resulted from religious rivalry.
He said that the conflict erupted into religious strife only after being triggered by certain political elites exploiting religion.
However, a chairman of MUI Muardi Chatib said such a bill was needed, because religious discord was a fact of everyday life and that a bill was needed to instill a code of ethics among the faithful.
"We need a law which can instill harmony between religions. It is so evident that we are not living in harmony," Chatib insisted.
Legislator Muchtar Adam from the Reform faction also said such a bill was necessary to avoid further religious misunderstandings and clashes.
Muchtar, who owns an Islamic boarding school in Bandung, West Java, recounted during the hearing that his students were compelled to beat Christian missionaries who adamantly attempted to preach their faith at the boarding school despite being told several times that they were not welcome there.
Muchtar said he had politely warned them several times that they were forbidden to preach there but the warnings were not heeded and thus his students resorted to force to eject them out of the premises.
Sularso conceded that there were certain Christians sects that practiced such undesirable methods.
"I myself have a headache about this. The sects come from the United States," he said.
Another MUI executive, Husen Umar, highlighted the importance of the bill to enforce the ethical use of cultural symbols in religious preaching.
Husen questioned the use of Betawi (Jakarta native) symbols, which he claimed is associated with Islam, during a televised Christmas program last year.
"Dozens of Betawi organizations protested the use of the symbols, such as Koko shirts and headscarves. It hurts them," he said.
PHDI Secretary General Ida Bagus Gunadha, while not taking an outright position supporting or rejecting the bill, also lamented the use of a symbols associated with one religion by other faiths.
"Many churches in Bali are built and designed like Hindu temples," Gunadha told The Jakarta Post after the hearing.
He suggested more dialogs be held before the House endorses the plan to introduce the bill.
However, after the hearing, Commission VI deputy chairperson Chodidjah Saleh indicated that legislators would likely go ahead and propose the bill despite reservations from certain religious groups.
"It looks like legislators have agreed to introduce the bill," the United Development Party legislator told journalists. (jun)