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Jakarta Christian Communication Forum Expresses Serious Concerns Over New Laws on Building Churches

Indonesia Watch

Christians have Concerns Over New Laws Building Churches

In recent months, discussion about the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB), have been very lively in our community. This has been further heightened by the widespread, forced closures of many churches in West Java , Bekasi and Banten . These forced closures have been carried out by both non-governmental organizations using religious labels and by government agencies themselves.

Since I have become involved in activities for church advocacy through the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum (FKKJ) in 1998, the phrase “the Joint Ministerial Decree” has constantly been a disturbing inheritance from the inventory of the New Order (Suharto Government).

I have consistently been hearing complaints from churches about the difficulty of organizing permits to build churches because of this Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB).

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As we know, the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) or the Joint Decree of the Minister of Religion and the Minister for Internal Affairs No. 01/BER/mdn-mag/1969 concerning the conduct of the task of government agencies in guaranteeing security and the smooth running of the development of religion and religious worship by its adherents, was decreed in Jakarta on 13 September 1969, so about 36 years ago.

What can be seen from the name of this Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) is that several opportunities can be found for the authorities in this nation, that is, the government, to act autocratically towards religious communities. This SKB gives authority to the state officials, in this case the District Chief and his subordinates, to protect the order of religious adherents in the development of religion and in religious worship. If the Government considers that religious adherents are not toeing the line, then the District Chief must get involved to bring them into line. Activities of evangelism and prayer in the church must be controlled in accordance with the government viewpoint. So with the SKB, the government and security forces obtain the authority to adjudicate worship activities of religious adherents in this Pancasila state.

So, briefly, we can see that this Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) has provided as broad as possible an opportunity for government agencies to act autocratically.

In the matter of building houses of worship, the church authorities must obtain a permit from the District Chief or subordinates who are delegated the task. In providing permits, the District Chief employs considerations in accordance with chapter 4 clause 3 of this Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) “When it is considered necessary, the District Chief ……can request the opinion of religious organizations and local Islamic teachers/spiritual leaders.”

In practice in the field what happens is a manipulation of this clause so that signatures from residents who live around the location of the church building have to be collected. Sometimes agreement had already been obtained from the local neighbors but suddenly a group of people would come in trucks or mini buses from far away and would stage a protest rally against the building of the church. So the words, “when considered necessary”, were really a trap that could be used by the state bureaucracy to make the obtaining of building permits for churches very difficult. And when a bureaucracy had made it difficult to obtain a permit, then the price of organizing that permit would sky rocket and furthermore would become an expectation of the bureaucrat.

From this picture we are able to see why obtaining permits for the building of gambling centers or brothels was easy, while obtaining them for churches was difficult. In the first place the management of entertainment centers could buy the permission of the District chief or even give him shares in the ownership of the said establishment. Remember in our society, a government officer usually wants to make it a business for personal profit. For the churches, this way of doing things is very objectionable, so of course obtaining permits to build a church remains difficult.

Chapter 5 of the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) states that if there is any conflict between religions, for example about the building of a church, then the District Chief must speedily provide a solution that is just and impartial. Indeed this clause sounds really good the same as every oath of office sworn by officials since the days of the Dutch East Indies . Do not forget that a just and impartial officer in this nation is extremely rare. What we normally face is that the pattern of behavior of an officer is determined by the largeness of the envelope that is thrust in front of his eyes. Church representatives are obviously unable to thrust such huge envelopes in front of them.

When a wild mob comes to ransack a church, the district chief and his officers including the police, often unofficially “support” the action or just become spectators of the incident from behind the scenes. Occasionally it even happens that it is the District Chief himself who directly leads the destruction of the church as recently happened in the village of Bencongan , Curug-Tangerang. So it could be said this took place right in front of the nose of SBY (abbreviation for Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono), Tangerang borders the capital city of Jakarta . So the oath of office of a District Chief to be neutral, just and impartial, continues to be a mere formality.

That is briefly our bitter experience with the famous Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB). Now they say that the SKB is being revised and from the reports we have received, the results of this revision make the SKB even worse. According to the revised concept they say that in order to build a house of worship, two permits are now required, that is the Permit in Principle for the Building of a House of Worship (IPPRI) and the Permit to Build a House of Worship (IMBRI). These two permits must be requested from the local regent/mayor.

The IPPRI must be proposed by the religious community organization or the committee for the building of the house of worship to the regent/mayor, and be accompanied with a recommendation from the Religious Community Harmony Forum (FKUB) suburb/village, a recommendation from the FKUB county, FKUB regency/city. While the IMBRI must be accompanied by the IPPRI, the conditions of the IMB are based on the regulations of the district of the regency/city.

This is a super complicated bureaucracy. To even think about it is complicated. Its implementation in the field will certainly be even more complicated. It appears Indonesians will not have the opportunity to worship because their time will be taken up by organizing with these super modern bureaucratic parties. Surely the number of Indonesians entering heaven will fall rapidly, due to the fact that they must go to hell together with the bureaucrats.

It seems that the government is determined to carry out this revision because of the opportunity to form FKUB from the village level to the regional level and this is a new project with new budget. The Minister of Religion and the Minister for Internal Affairs will smile to see the budgets for these projects.

In recent discussions, there have been some factions who have said that this SKB is not valid because our system of laws says nothing about the term Joint Ministerial Decree. So until now, we the citizens of this nation, have become the victims of something that is invalid. Because of that, there is a group of lawyers who will appeal the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) to the Constitutional Court or the High Court .

There are also efforts to demand the abolition of the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) and its replacement with a Religious Freedom Law. We hope that the parties supporting the Religious Freedom Law will propose a draft of this Law so that it can be discussed and socialized to the public.

There is an effort by the Department of Religion to propose a Law of Religious Harmony. This is just as bad as the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) because its initial starting point is very flawed. Both the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) and the Laws of Religious Harmony assume that religious communities in this nation are always in conflict, in confusion, are not regulated, not harmonious etc. etc. So the Government must become the Big Brother to bring order among the religious communities that always cause strife, always in conflict, in this nation. That is a ploy of deliberately causing division by the authorities in this nation who wish to divide the community so that they will easily be subjugated.

I always say publicly that religious harmony cannot be enforced through legislation. Let religious communities dialogue one with another to knit together ties of relationship and communication among themselves. The government that represents the nation can only function as a facilitator. It must not act as Big Brother who forces his will on the people. If the Government acts as Big Brother, what is the difference between a democratic nation and the authoritarian one that we have left behind.

Our task as a religious community in this nation is to continue dialogue between religions with zeal and honesty and to work as hard as we possibly can to set ourselves free from the political causing of division on the part of the government.

All the religions that come down from Abraham that is Christianity and Islam obligate their adherents to spread their religion through activities of evangelism or preaching, but we must be aware that we all do not live in empty space but we live in community. A person from the time of his birth must live in a community until the time of his death. The large Indonesian community is very multicultural. Here can be found very many tribes, languages, customs and religions. So we carry out our own religions and at the same time also live in this multicultural Indonesian that we all love.

Theophilus Bela M.A.

Ambassador for Peace

General Chairman of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum (FKKJ)

Secretary General of the Indonesian Committee on Religion for Peace (IComRP/FKKJ)