Muhamad Ali, a lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta, writes on religious freedom in Indonesia in the Jakarta Post: “Religion has become part of not only private but also public life in Indonesia as elsewhere. The question about how the state should deal with religious pluralism remains unresolved and therefore needs to be rethought.
“The Indonesian Constitution clearly states that every person has the right to worship according to his or her own religion and beliefs. The government has so far given official recognition in the form of representation at the Ministry of Religion to five major religions and indigenous beliefs (aliran kepercayaan). In January 2000, the ban on the practice of Confucism that had existed since 1967 was lifted. While only five religions are officially recognized, the law also states that other religions are not forbidden.
“However, there are still some restrictions on certain types of religious activity and civil administration that are felt by Confucians and the adherents of other minority religions.
“For example, many Confucians still have difficulties with civil registration. The National Identity Card (KTP) should state the religion of the holder. Confucians have not been legally allowed to state their religion on their identity card. Accordingly, Confucians are precluded from renting venues to hold services.
“Because they cannot register they are forced to find alternative means to practice their faith, to be hypocritical by stating an official religion other than their own — for example, by identifying themselves as Buddhists — or run the risk of not being issued with an identity card. The failure to state a religion would mean being refused an ID card, something that is required for employment and other purposes.
“Some groups have urged the government to abolish the need to state one’s religion on one’s ID card. However, little if any progress has been made. Activists have noted bureaucratic resistance to change and say that the Muslim majority see no need to remove the requirement. They say that stating a person’s religion on his ID card is necessary so that if he dies and his body is not claimed by relatives, the authorities will be able to ensure appropriate treatment for the remains.
“Such resistance shows a lack of understanding about the principle of equal citizenship.
“Certain policies, laws and official actions restrict religious freedom, and the police and military occasionally tolerate discrimination against and abuse of religious groups by private organizations. Although the Constitution does not discriminate, there is de facto discrimination that limits the access of minorities to government jobs and places in public universities.
“Although the adherents of minority religions are able to obtain police permits to hold meetings in hotels and other public places, there are still some difficulties registering marriages, enrolling children in schools and concerning other civil matters in some areas. They are unable to register their marriages at the Civil Registration Office because they do not belong to one of the five recognized religions. Also it is difficult to obtain official recognition for interfaith marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims. These difficulties result in some persons converting, often superficially, in order to get married and some others going abroad to get married.
“Some leaders of religious minorities have also expressed concerns that the onset of decentralization and enhanced regional autonomy in the country, which is designed to empower provincial and district governments, might result in the issuance of regulations by local officials that could erode the rights of minorities to practice their religions. This worry has become more pronounced in some areas where Islamic Law is being or is to be applied. The implementation of Islamic Law is rejected by minorities as it will undermine religious tolerance and pluralism.
“The state should serve as an agent of religious pluralism in that it should pursue the politics of recognition. All men and women should have equal religious and civil rights — private rights and public rights. No religion should be excluded from state recognition. Everyone should be recognized because everyone is authentic, unique, and equal.
“The government should be aware that they have mistakenly left minorities unrecognized or misrecognized. A person or a group could suffer real damage and real distortion as a result. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being.
“Misrecognition shows not just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need. As the philosopher Rousseau put it ‘le sentiment de l’existence’ should be respected.
“Every one shares the dignity inherent in human beings, or the dignity of the citizen. Universalism emphasizes the equal dignity of all citizens, and the state should be concerned about the equalization of rights and entitlements. The state should avoid the existence of ‘first-class’ and ‘second-class’ citizens.
“For some, equalization affects concerns religious rights; for others, it concerns civil rights and voting rights, and even the socio-economic sphere. But despite all the differences of interpretation, the principle of equal citizenship has come to be universally accepted and any violation of this principle constitutes a violation against human dignity.
“The politics of equal dignity should be tied to the politics of recognition. With the politics of recognition, everyone should be recognized for his or her unique identity. With the politics of equal dignity, what is established is meant to be universally the same, an identical basket of rights and entitlements. Both politics are manifestations of the principle of equal citizenship.
“The government should ensure that all laws and regulations are in accordance with the principle of religious freedom, increase religious harmony and interfaith dialogue, encourage comparative religious education and increase the role and function of religious institutions in overcoming the difficulties of social change, and strengthen interreligious and interethnic harmony.” (Thanks to Nancy Block.)