Indonesia religious freedom

Citizens can now list their own faith; no longer limited to six religion choices on ID cards.

In a historic feat, Indonesia has recently granted its citizens the freedom of religion by overturning a law that required all citizens to religiously identify as followers of only six officially recognized religions on their ID cards. A landmark court ruling by the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, the move is widely celebrated by those belonging to native faiths.

Since 2013, the Indonesian Civil Administration Law required all nationals to list themselves as one among the six religions officially recognized by the government, namely Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu or Confucian. If not, they would be denied basic legal rights like marriage registration, land titles, access to education and the justice system. They were also provided the option of leaving the “religion” category blank in their official documents. But by doing this, they would be considered atheist, which is considered an offense in Indonesia under its blasphemy laws.

The nine-judge panel of the Constitutional Court, decided in an unanimous ruling that the 2013 laws, as well as a similar 2006 law were unconstitutional, discriminatory and unjust, and therefore not legally binding.

Dewi Kanti, who practices Sunda Wiwitan, a religion common among Sundanese in West Java Province said in an interview with BenarNews, “It’s a relief because it has been a long journey. It is not easy to face discrimination.” She added, “There should be no more ‘recognized’ or ‘unrecognized religions’.”

In 2016, four people challenged the Civil Administration Law, saying that those who followed non-regulated religions, including themselves had been disadvantaged and discriminated because of it.

One of the plaintiffs, Carlim, who follows Sapto Darmo, a faith inspired by Kejawen, a Javanese spiritual teaching said that because of the law, he had to leave the religion category in his ID cards empty and therefore, suffered the unjust consequences. He claimed that he was unable to bury a deceased family member in public cemeteries because of the blank column.

Tjahjo Kumolo, Indonesian Home Affairs Minister announced that the newly implemented law is final and binding, and would also help to improve the country’s civil administration system. “It will be adopted immediately by 514 regencies and cities,” he said, adding that the home ministry will work together with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Religious Affairs for data collection. 

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