Indonesian Court Issues Landmark Ruling in Favor of Religious Freedom

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
171107_ID_Faith_1000.jpg Players perform the Debus, an ancient ceremony of the Sundanese to prove the power of their faith, during the Banten Beach Festival in Indonesia’s Banten province, Aug. 23, 2014.

Indonesia on Tuesday amended its rules through a court decision that opens the door for the lawful practice of faiths that had not officially been recognized in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The ruling by the Constitutional Court allows followers of religions outside the country’s six official ones to list their faiths on their national ID cards.

“This decision will be an important milestone for the elimination of discrimination based on religion and belief,” said Bonar Tigor Naipospos from the human rights group Setara Institute.

A 2013 Indonesian law has long required citizens to declare themselves as Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian in order for them to gain state benefits, including access to education, the justice system and marriage registration.

In its unanimous ruling, the court said that the four-year-old law and a similar 2006 law were not legally binding because they contradicted the Constitution by not accommodating followers of faiths outside the recognized state religions.

“It’s a relief because it has been a long journey. It is not easy to face discrimination,” Dewi Kanti, a follower of Sunda Wiwitan, a religious system practiced by Sundanese in West Java province, told BenarNews.

The next challenge, Kanti said, would be to use this ruling to eliminate regulations deemed unconstitutional because of religious tests.

“There should be no more term ‘recognized’ or ‘unrecognized religions,’” she said.

About 90 percent of Indonesia’s more than 260 million people are identified as Muslim, but the country also has small but influential Christian, Hindu and Buddhist populations.

In 2016, four people representing indigenous faiths petitioned the court to review the nation’s Civil Administration Law over concerns of discrimination against believers of non-regulated religions.

Plaintiff Nggay Mehang Tana, a member of the faith-based Marapu at Sumba Island in eastern Indonesia, said about 34,000 members of his community had to choose one of the six listed religions that were against their beliefs before being granted ID cards.

Another plaintiff, Carlim, a follower of Sapto Darmo inspired by Kejawen, a Javanese spiritual teaching, said he has suffered the consequences of having the religion column in his ID empty.

He said burial for a deceased family member was rejected at public cemeteries because of the missing column.

Ruling is binding

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said the government would implement the ruling, describing it as final and binding.

“The ministry will coordinate with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Ministry of Education to obtain data on followers of faiths in Indonesia,” he said in a statement.

Tjahjo said that the court’s ruling would help improve the civil administration system.

“It will be adopted immediately by 514 regencies and cities,” said Tjahjo, adding that his ministry would propose a revision to the civil law to accommodate the ruling.


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