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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Religious Freedom Needs the Rule of Law

Editorial: Religious Freedom Needs the Rule of Law

The right to worship freely is clearly enshrined in our Constitution. But to our nation’s chagrin, this guarantee may only exist in theory, and not yet in practice. As the recent spate of violence against religious minorities — such as Christian congregations and the Ahmadiyah sect — has shown, the pluralism that our nation’s founding fathers wisely envisioned has yet to materialize.

In a country as wide and as diverse as ours, ignoring pluralism would mean eliminating the very ties that have been able to bind us together as a nation for so long. It is the recognition of this plurality, and the need for all Indonesians to mutually respect each other’s differences, that has been able to make this nation so strong.

But the latest incidents, including the assault on members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church in Bekasi, have not only sullied the tolerance this nation is known for, but also threaten to endanger our national unity and cohesion.

Many people have blamed these problems on the 2006 joint ministerial decree on the building of houses of worship, issued by the attorney general and the ministers of home affairs and religious affairs.

They say it encourages official discrimination against religious minorities and provides justification for the violence increasingly being directed against these minorities.

That is why recent statements from Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, have come as such a breath of fresh air.

Djoko initially said the joint ministerial decree could always be reviewed and amended, and on Tuesday he supported calls for a law on religious harmony to replace the decree.

Even more welcome was the decision reached on Tuesday by the House of Representatives and the government to immediately start drafting a law on religious harmony.

Although the House remains divided over whether the law should use the controversial joint ministerial decree as its starting point, the willingness to address the problem and try to overcome it is laudable.

We emphatically support efforts by both the government and the legislature to formulate a law that would guarantee religious harmony.

The issue desperately deserves attention, because the joint ministerial decree has been found by many to be fundamentally flawed and wholly unable to provide a strong foundation for pluralism in the country.

It is not our intention to try and influence or interfere with the work of the government and the House.

But we think it is important for us to remind them that to uphold the Constitution, the laws that protect the rights of religious minorities and provide a secure environment for them must be honored.

The new law must go further than the current ones to protect the religious rights of all members of Indonesia’s ever-changing society.

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