03/08/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Changing rules for building churches (Overview)

The revision of controversial decree regulating building places of worship is completed. Christians react as Muslim leaders express their support.

Under the 1969 joint ministerial decree (SKB No 1/1969), local authorities and residents were required to give consent before any permit could be issued for building a place of worship. However, permits were hard to get and applications by Christians almost always fell on deaf years. Christians were more often than not forced to worship in a legal no man's land.

Last year, after Muslim extremists in West Java province forced Christians to shut down some house churches, the government was forced to review existing legislation. According to West Java Christian Communication Forum, 35 churches were closed by the hard-line groups in 2005.

The new version was adopted after consultations involving religious leaders from various communities as well as government and national security officials. Under the revised rules, the existing basic principles are maintained but specific rules for granting permits must be followed.

-                  Permits must be issued by local government upon consultation with the Communication Forums for Religious Harmony (that include representative from the various religious communities) and the local branch of the Religious Affairs Ministry. The forum will vet applications and advise local authorities on granting permits.

-                  A congregation of at least 100 members must exist before application for a new place of worship can be made and any application must be approved by at least 70 local residents from other faith communities. The Indonesian Communion of Churches countered with a proposal that would set the limit at 60 members and 40 residents.

-                  The Interior Ministry announced that applications should be approved within 7 to 30 days and building permits granted within 6 months.

During the discussions leading up to the new decree, some called for the abolition of the law altogether proposing in its place a law on religious freedom.

Now the revised decree must wait for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's approval before it can become law.

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