Catholic View on Houses of Worship Law

Apr 6th, 2006, in News, by

A Catholic scholar in Indonesia explains his objections to the new decree on the building of houses of worship.

Franz Magnis-Suseno, is a professor at Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy in Jakarta and spoke to the Jakarta Post thus:

How do you see the new joint ministerial decree?

The decree goes against the amended 1945 Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. What I regret is that it does not protect human rights and the people’s constitutional right to exercise their freedom to worship. To be consistent with the Constitution, the government should allow all religious communities, including minority one, to build their own houses of worship without any restrictions.

Which articles of the decree run contrary to the Constitution?

The special conditions requiring support from at least 90 denomination members and 60 local residents, and a recommendation from the local religious affairs office, are all contrary to the Constitution. The decree does not allow a group of less than 90 adherents or those who fail to win support from 60 locals to build their own house of worship.

The special conditions also spark fears that those giving their signatures for the establishment of churches or temples will face intimidation or receive other forms of social sanction.

A recommendation from the local religious affairs office is unnecessary if the would-be Joint Forum for Religious Tolerance (FKUB) gives approval. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution. The government should instead promote harmony among religious communities without having to interfere in the internal affairs of religions.

How do you see the new decree in connection with the implementation of freedom of religion in Indonesia?

No churches and temples, or fewer, might have stood on Indonesian soil unless such a regulation took effect. It rings true that despite freedom of religion, many small religious groups have been prevented by certain groups of people from building their houses of worship. Second, regional administrations are required to issue permits within six months after letters of request to build houses of worship arrive. Third, minor religious communities are allowed to use temporary buildings with the knowledge of relevant authorities if they could not construct a permanent house of worship.

How is this kind of issue regulated in other democratic countries?

In Germany, for example, the minority is protected and their rights are respected. Minority groups are allowed to construct their houses of worship in certain areas which are available in accordance with spatial zoning.

How do you think the Joint Forum for Religious Tolerance (FKUB) should play its role?

The FKUB, which will have branches in regions, should play an important role of promoting tolerance among religious communities. If it is committed to achieving this and building togetherness, it has to campaign for religious tolerance and encourage the majority’s respect of the minority’s constitutional rights, especially the freedom of religion, and help the minority to build their houses of worship. The forum should not take political advantage from the decree by restricting the minority’s basic rights.

The government has pledged to win the acceptance of all religious communities for the joint decree. What is your comment?

The planned campaign is necessary and important but we should bear in mind that the decree goes beyond the Constitution. We hope the campaign will educate the people about religious tolerance and eliminate the prevailing prejudice toward the minority. The campaign could be part of a learning process for the majority to respect the minority and their rights.

Of the most importance is regional administrations should not issue any new rulings to enforce the decree, which might pose new hurdles to the minority to obtain permits to build their houses of worship.

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