Indonesian government promises to re-visit harsh church construction legislation

Indonesia’s Home Affairs minister, Tjahjo Kumolo, has said he will consider revising legislation that currently makes it extremely difficult for Christians to obtain permits to build churches.

According to a 2006 decree, permission for a new place of worship requires applicants to obtain supporting signatures from 60 local households of different faiths, approval from the local religious affairs office and local authorities, and recommendation from the local Interfaith Communication Forum. It is these requirements that Mr Kumolo is now proposing to change.

“That requirement should be revised,” he said in capital city Jakarta on 9 November. “Personally, I believe that the number of supporters needed should be reduced or there should be no need for any approval.”

Mr Kumolo has promised to bring the matter to the attention of the Religious Affairs minister, Lukman Hakim Syaifundin, and the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs minister, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, before discussing the issue with the Cabinet.

The issue of church permits came to fore in October this year when local authorities tore down twelve churches in Aceh province after local Islamists demanded their closure. The Islamists took the law into their own hands and set fire to three local churches which they insisted did not have permission to stand.

“We don’t need [the 2006 legislation] as the constitution has accommodated every citizen’s freedom of religion and of worship. It would be good if we return to the constitution,” said church leader Suprapto.

Home Affairs minister Mr Kumolo has previously made positive statements regarding the country’s religious minorities. Last year, he proposed that the government scrap religious affiliation from Indonesian identity cards, a move that has angered Islamists. Since General Suharto’s rule (1967-1998), Indonesians have had to state whether they are Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Taoist or Buddhist.

He also said that all regional bylaws that regulate religious groups would be reviewed so that they conform to national legislation. The statement appears to be in reference to a church in Bogor, West Java, which has been in a long-standing dispute. Even after the Supreme Court ruled that Bogor mayor Diani Budiarto reopen the building in 2010, he has so far refused to do so.

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