While Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution actually enshrines the right of all of its citizens to believe in God through whatever faith they choose, the government only officially recognizes six major religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). A small but significant portion of Indonesians still follow indigenous faiths that predate the major religions, but have never been able to declare themselves as such officially since the government did not recognize their faiths as religions, leading to many forms of discrimination both societal and official.
That’s why a decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, released today, is being hailed as a major step forward for religious freedoms in Indonesia. It strikes down two articles in the country’s population administration laws that only allowed citizens to enter one of the six recognized religions on their ID cards (religion being a required field on all ID cards here).
A previous court decision did give people the right to leave the religion field on their IDs blank, but this can also lead to discrimination, including from officials who are unwilling to process ID cards for anybody who refuses to choose one of the six official religions and accusations of atheism (declaring one’s atheism can lead to imprisonment in Indonesia).
The Constitutional Court review was filed be adherents of four of Indonesia’s aliran kepercayaan (an official term encompassing various forms of Indigenous faiths) including Marapu, Paralim, Ugamo Bangsa Batak and Sapto Darmo.
In explaining the court’s decision, Judge Saldi Isra said the Population Administration Law restricts the religious rights of citizens by only allowing them to officially declare their belief in religions recognized by the state.
“This is not in line with the spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which explicitly ensures that every citizen is free to embrace their own religion and beliefs and to worship according to their own religion and beliefs,” Saldi said as quoted by Tempo.
Arnol Purba, one of the plaintiffs, said he was pleased with the Court’s decision. He said he had joined the lawsuit as felt his son had been discriminated against as he had been unable to find a job due to the religion field on his ID card being blank.
“We are pleased that our faith has been recognized by the government, and the possibilities for my child’s employment are now open,” he said.
While this can still be considered a big win for proponents of religious freedom in Indonesia, hopefully it will also lead the judiciary to overturn the blasphemy laws that have led to the persecution of followers of religious sects such as the Ahmadiyah.