Indonesia drafting bill to protect all religions

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government is working on a proposed law aimed at promoting communal harmony and ridding the diverse nation of religious intolerance.

December 16, 2014

Leaders of religious minority groups are reacting positively to a move by the new government to draft a bill that would promote inter-faith tolerance and protect followers of such religions.

“We really appreciate this brave step taken by the minister,” Sheila Soraya, a spokeswoman for the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly, told Khabar Southeast Asia, referring to Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, who proposed the bill recently.

“I hope it will shed the discrimination we have been facing as a minority. We will support every effort for equality.”

Reverend Palti Panjaitan, pastor of Filadelfia Batak Protestant Church (HKBP Filadelfia), an embattled congregation in Bekasi, expressed a more guarded opinion about the prospective bill.

“It could mean protecting all religious followers unconditionally, or protecting only religions officially acknowledged by the government from other faiths,” he said. “If the bill is applied on the first condition, it means a lot to all of us, giving a bright future to our religious freedom.

“We will definitely give it full support. But if it means the second, we are against it.”

Yet, the pastor added if the government applied the constitution strictly and ratified international laws on human rights, the ministry needn’t draft the bill. Chapter X of the Indonesian charter states that all citizens are equal before the law. It also guarantees human rights, including the right to religious freedom.

“But if it is important and urgent to protect all religious freedom, so be it. It gets my support,” Palti told Khabar.

Upholding the right to worship freely

Lukman announced his plan to draft the bill in late October. It would cover religious minorities among the country’s six recognised faiths, adherents of unofficial faiths, as well as members of minority Muslim groups, such as Shia Muslims or members of the Ahmadiyah sect.

“In the next six months, we will prepare this bill to protect all religious groups, including those outside of the six major religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism,” Lukman told reporters in Jakarta on October 29th.

“The bill will protect everyone’s right to religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Constitution. It includes the right to believe in whatever they choose to lay their faith in and the independence to practice their beliefs. We hope the bill can improve the quality of life,” he added.

The future bill, he said, would protect all religious groups from attacks on their places of worship or efforts by intolerant people to shutter them. If enacted, it would also allow all religious groups to obtain building permits through a regulated system.

“We’ll hold regular interfaith forums for religious teachers to make sure that everyone has the same point of view. Though we have different beliefs, all religions teach the same lessons of promoting humanity,” Lukman said.

Promoting peaceful co-existence

The bill Lukman proposes represents a breakthrough for the newly installed government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, according to interfaith studies professor Novriantoni Kahar, who lectures at Paramadina University.

“I hope it will help boost religious tolerance among us, bring harmony, and create more productive lives,” he said.

Asked whether the bill could become law and effectively shield minorities from attacks by radical groups, Novriantoni replied it is possible – under one condition.

“The government must ensure that all elements help enforce the law as soon as the law is ready. It is important to understand how the law will be applied,” the academic told Khabar. “All this time such laws have been applied to minorities while radicals have walked free.”

Novriantoni stressed that he bill should also bar hateful speech .

“That would effectively protect minorities. In civilised countries, people spreading hate speech deserve to be punished,” he added.

Andhika Bhakti in Jakarta contributed to this article.