Religious Tolerance Bill May Restrict Religious Freedom In Indonesia | Persecution

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Religious Tolerance Bill May Restrict Religious Freedom In Indonesia

10/28/2011 Indonesia (AsiaNews) – Far from being a breakthrough, the religious tolerance bill has stirred controversy on fundamental issues.

Drafted by the three government bodies, namely the Ministry for Religious Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the Ministry for People’s Welfare, the bill on religious tolerance, known here as the Rencana Undang-undang (RUU) Kerukunan Beragama, was presented to the Indonesian House of Parliament earlier this year (February 2011). After a series of discussions between members of the Eighth Commission of the House and top government officials from the three ministries, the RUU Kerukunan Beragama has met with strong criticism in Indonesian civil society and it is unclear when it might be adopted.

What is more urgent is not to turn the bill on religious tolerance into law, but “to come up with a bill that guarantees the freedom to practice one’s faith,” said Fr Benny Susetyo Pr, from the Interfaith Commission of the Indonesian Bishops of Conference.

The RUU Kerukunan Beragama does not address a number of concerns on several fundamental issues, some important scholars from different universities noted. For instance, instead of fostering interfaith tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a country prone to sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians, the bill does the opposite by creating new problems between religious groups and in the relationship between citizens and the state over religious freedom.

According to Prof Siti Musdah Mulia, the bill’s name is misleading. “I have no idea what kind of religious tolerance it addresses,” she said. “The bill has nothing to say about this fundamental issue”.

A number of problems in relation to religious tolerance are evident. They include violent actions against other religious denominations or Ahmadis. Several hard-line Muslim groups view the latter as a false Islamic sect, Prof Mulia said. Such problems are not the result of many ideas on the issue but of government regulation.

Prof Mulia said that the Indonesian government only recognises five official religions, namely Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism (Kong Hu Cu).

“In fact, millions of Indonesians practice other religious beliefs that are not officially recognised,” she noted. For her, adopting any particular religious belief is something very personal and “the state should not intervene”. Instead, the Indonesian government has tended to project a biased image of religious tolerance in the country.

For Prof Franz Magnis-Suseno, the bill is easilyy subject to unexpected intervention by the state and from other parties with vested interests.

Another issue concerns places of worship. It is ridiculous that building a place where people can worship needs the approval of neighbours. “The state should allow any place of worship as long as it can provide parking space and not disturb others,” he said.

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