The law on building houses of worship.
Since 1969 it is estimated that over 1000 churches have been burned down or forced to close due partly to the existence of a special ministerial decree that made it difficult for churches, and sometimes other religious groups' houses of worship, to gain formal approval and registration for their existence. Without having their paperwork in order they stood as easy targets for militant groups or bigoted local residents of other faiths, with the police often being stuck in the middle and having to side with the protesters and require congregations to move elsewhere or make do with holding services in homes.
The attacks on churches have intensified in the last few years and this caused the government in Jakarta to revise the law in question (SKB (Surat Keputusan Bersama) Menag dan Mendagri Nomor 1/1969.), with the process of revision now having been completed and the Religious Affairs department about to begin an education program on the new rules.
The most important aspects of the new rules for gaining permission to establish a house of worship are:
If the above requirements are met but the proposed building meets with resistance from some local residents the local government is required to find an alternative venue for services. This is a new addition to the original 1969 law.
The decree also says that congregations numbering less than 90 people can obtain two-year temporary permits. Administrations are also required to protect and assist existing houses of worship which have yet to obtain permits.
The formulation of these new rules has been a subject of fierce debate and the decree has undergone no less than eleven revisions. Many are still unhappy, mostly from the Christian side.
Weinata Sairin of the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), the main Protestant body in Indonesia, said that his organisation had wanted the minimum number of worshippers reduced to 60 and the approval of only 40 others for permission, and added:
It's not simply a matter of numbers. The freedom to worship is clearly stated in the Constitution so this decree is not actually needed. But now the most important thing is the implementation (of the decree) in the field, because people's levels of freedom, education and the quality of religious harmony varies in the regions.
Additionally, 42 mainly Christian parliamentarians, filed a formal complaint mediaindo at the House of Representatives today rejecting the decree. On procedural grounds the complaint will be forwarded to the president and attorney general.
Constant Ponggawa, the leader of the parliamentary Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), a Christian party, submitted the complaint and said later that the decree had caused tension between followers of all religions in the country, and:
We are very concerned that this decree will give rise to violations of the constitution.
(Kami sangat prihatin apabila SKB dua menteri dan revisi SKB tersebut diberlakukan akan menimbulkan pelanggaran yang mendasar atas konstitusi)
On the other side of the fence some Muslim leaders have said that in some parts of the country, such as north Sulawesi, the building of mosques meets with much resistance. They also say that in spite of the rules the rate of increase in the number of churches exceeds that of mosques.
According to official figures, from 1977 to 2004, the number of Muslim houses of worship grew by 64% from 392,044 to 643,834, while the number of Protestant churches saw growth of 131% from 18,977 to 43,909, and Catholic churches grew by 152% from 4,934 to 12,473.