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ICC Note: Indonesia is making some progress in terms of enhancing religious rights. The Constitutional Court declares unconstitutional for the indigenous faith followers to leave a blank on the religious column on their ID’s and family registration cards. Religious minorities in Indonesia have been a subject of religious persecution since they were easily recognized by not being allowed to associate their faith on their ID cards. Despite the ruling, however, real religious freedom remains elusive as persecution of religious minorities still continues: some Christians along with other religious minorities have been accused of blasphemy for simply promoting their political views; commemorative Christian church events being called off because of threats of violence; there were violent protests against the building of new churches and even a case where a Christmas service was disrupted.

12/4/2017 Indonesia (UCA News) – The recognition of native faiths by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has enhanced religious rights.

However, the government needs to clamp down on intolerant groups and scrap an abused anti-blasphemy law in order to achieve genuine religious freedom.

Followers of native religions, locally known as aliran kepercayaan, have long suffered discrimination.

This has been the case even though Muslim-majority Indonesia prides itself on acceptance of religious and ethnic diversity.

The People’s Consultative Assembly in 1978 declared native faiths to be part of “traditions and culture” rather than religions as such.

An overwhelming majority of citizens have been required to name an officially recognized religion on their personal identification (ID) cards and civil marriage certificates.

Indonesians are obliged to get an ID card at the age of 17 that displays personal data, including each person’s religious affiliation.

But as aliran kepercayaan faiths were not recognized as religions, followers were told to leave blank the “religion column” on both ID and family registration cards.

Without religious identity being included on such documents, they faced difficulties in obtaining government jobs and services.

Aliran kepercayaan refers to various forms of mysticism in Indonesia, including Kebatinan, Kejiwan, Kerohanian and Wiwitan.

Followers of the traditional Wiwitan faith in West Java, for example, venerate the power of nature and ancestral spirits.

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, in 2016 there were some 1,200 native faith groups in Indonesia with about 12 million followers.

This constituted almost 5 percent of the country’s population of more than 260 million.

Some followers of native religions pretend to be members of official religions, or give up their faith altogether, in order to access government services.

However, earlier this month judges of the Constitutional Court declared as unconstitutional the requirement for native faith followers to leave blank the “religion column” on IDs and family registration cards.

So aliran kepercayaan faiths now have the same legal standing as officially recognized Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

The state is henceforth obliged to protect traditional faith adherents and their right to follow as well as propagate their teachings.

One consequence of the Constitutional Court ruling is likely to be a change in the country’s religious statistics.

Some Hindu leaders have already expressed concern that it will reduce the number of recognized Hindus.

This is because many native faith followers are currently registered with the Ministry of Education and Culture as Hindus.

With their existence now recognized, we can expect more native faith practitioners to register with the government.

Religious violence

The Constitutional Court ruling is very much in line with the Indonesian Government’s commitment to promote religious freedom.

The challenge, however, is to ensure that religious minorities are able practice their faiths without undue interference.

There have been cases of commemorative Christian church events being called off because of threats of violence.

There have also been violent protests against the building of new churches and even a case where a Christmas service was disrupted.

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