03/08/2006, 00.00
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Indonesian Christians sceptical about new decree on places of worship

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

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The revised version of the 1969 Joint Ministerial Decree on building places of worship now goes to the Indonesian president for approval. Although the revision is completed minority representatives involved in the process still retain misgivings about the law despite claims by the Religious Affairs Ministry Maftuh Basyuni that all has been settled. Christian leaders warn that the decree is still a threat to minorities and contrary to the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The revised law retains the basic principles of the old law, but now requires local government officials to issue permits upon consultation with local religious forums and branches of the Religious Affairs Ministry. Residents of areas where a new place of worship is slated to go up must also give their consent.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), long an ardent supporter of the decree, welcomed the new version. "If we don't limit the places of worship, they will be abundant. There would be competition from different religions or sects, and it would create public disorder," said Amidhan, a MUI member. Moreover, the Council's chairman, Ma'ruf Amin, said he was steadfastly opposed to demands that permits no longer be required as some had suggested during the consultation phase.

For Nathan Setiabudi, chairman of the (Protestant) Indonesian Christian Synod Churches, religious leaders split over this and two other issues, namely how many members should a congregation have before it can apply for a permit—under the revised decree, the minimum requirement would be 100—and what would constitute a "temporary place of worship". Also in his view, the revised degree fails an important legal litmus test since "it is the duty of every country to guarantee its citizens the right to freely practice their religion".

Fr Anton Benny Susety, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, agrees that "some details, for example the makeup of consultative forums, have not yet been sorted out".

Father Susety said that "an alternative choice" must be examined should a forum but not residents agree to grant a permit.

Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), announced it would back minorities whenever they apply for permits to build their places of worship.

NU Chairman Hasym Muzadi urged minority groups to respond affirmatively to the new decree stressing that "under the new rules, it will be easier and quicker to get a permit to set up a place of worship". 

The Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Indonesian Communion of Churches have not yet made any official statement about the revised decree.

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