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ICC Note

New regulations being reviewed by the Indonesian government for building places of worship would make it very difficult for Christians to build churches, or even have services in other places they may rent.

CHRISTIAN MINORITY WARY OF RULES TO SET UP PLACES OF WORSHIP

AKI/Jakarta Post (02/20/06)

Christian Minorities Wary of Rules to Set up Places of Worship

Although the Indonesian government has completed the revision of the controversial decree on the establishment of places of worship, Christians in the country are skeptical it will succeed in its aim of improving interfaith relations. The joint ministerial decree, issued in 1969 by the then home and religious affairs ministers, requires consent of local administrations and residents to build houses of worship. Religious minorities claim the requirement has been used against them in practicing their faith.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), long an ardent supporter of the decree, welcomed the new version, which is set to be presented to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week.

The revised version maintains the basic requirement of the original decree, but defines specific prerequisites. It mandates the establishment of the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB), consisting of representatives of all religious faiths, to review requests for permits to build places of worship and then provide recommendations to the local government.

The minimum number of congregation members for a proposed house of worship is set at 100, and the plan should be approved by at least 70 local residents of other faiths.

Indonesia ‘s religious affairs minister M. Maftuh Basyuni claimed Friday that “everything has been settled” and there was across-the-board agreement on the revisions. A public awareness campaign about the revisions will begin soon.

Priest Weinata Sairin of the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) said his organisation was opposed to the decree, because practicing religion was every citizen’s basic right and should not involve interference from the state.

“We sincerely hope that the joint ministerial decree would not be hastily passed, because it remains just as discriminative,” Weinata said Sunday.

He said there were issues stipulated in the revised decree which the PGI had yet to agree on. The group proposed that the minimum number of congregation members be set at 60 and the approval of 40 locals of other faiths was sufficient.

Weinata also took issue with the requirement that existing places of worships with no permits — as well as those inside malls, hotels, shop-houses and other public places — secure the permit.

“As for the existing places, why don’t we just let them proceed with their activities? And if the owners of the buildings are fine with it, then why should they obtain another permit?” he asked.

The communion, he said, appealed to the government to be more considerate because there were many minorities.

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