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In recent months, many churches have been closed by authorities and Muslims all over Indonesia . Hopefully, the forums discussed below will put an end to some of these closings.


(Aki/Jakarta Post)

The Indonesian government is to authorize interfaith forums – independent regional groupings of leaders from various faiths – to issue permits for the establishment of places of worship, a move that is expect to help end recent conflict over the setting up of churches. Muslim hardliners closed down more than 20 churches over the last year, which they claimed had been opened illegally. Until now, those wanting to establish houses of worship have been required to obtain approval from local administrations, with the consent of residents.
The decision to give interfaith forums greater authority was taken this week at meeting of top government officials, including Indonesia’s home affairs minister, M. Ma’ruf, minister of religious affairs M. Maftuh Basyuni, and minister of justice and human rights Hamid Awaluddin, who agreed on revisions to a controversial and outdated 36-year-old decree governing the creation of houses of worship.
Christians, a small minority in overwhelmingly Muslim Indonesia, consider the decree to have created difficulties for them in setting up churches, particularly in predominantly Muslim regions. The closing down of dozens of churches in West Java – backed by police – have been heavily criticized by both Christian and Muslim leaders, and prompted the government to revise the 1969 decree.
In future the interfaith forums – whose mission is to resolve inter-religious conflict – will be responsible for issuing the necessary permits to open a house of worship, and local administrations will only have a coordinating role. Local administration heads will also be given a role in “maintaining interfaith harmony” by coordinating the interfaith forum and the religious affairs agencies in the regions.
“The decree was made in 1969. Now, we are in the era of decentralization and regional autonomy. We expect a kind of delegation by governors and regents (district chiefs) or mayors to the village level,” Ma’ruf stated.
The decree, signed by then minister of religious affairs Moh Dahlan and home minister Amir Machmud, has been blamed for the closure of several Christian houses of worship recently.
Ma’ruf said that the revisions to the decree would not be subject to multiple interpretations and would be made in order to protect the rights of citizens to carry out their religious activities.