After the revision of a controversial religious decree, the Indonesian government's interfaith forums are now authorized to issue permits to establish places of worship, local agencies reported late last week.
During a meeting held Wednesday at the Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss the revision of the joint ministerial decree signed in 1969, top government officials said the interfaith forums would bear the main responsibility in issuing the necessary permits to open a house of worship while local administrations would only have a coordinating role. Previously, under the 1969 decree, religious groups were required to obtain permission from local communities as well as the government before building places of worship.
"The decree was made in 1969," said the Indonesian minister of home affairs Muhammad Ma'ruf, as reported by Indonesian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) on Thursday. Now, we are in the era of decentralization and regional autonomy. We expect a kind of delegation by governors and regents (district chiefs) or mayors to the village level.
According to AKI, the interfaith forums will enjoy greater authority in governing the establishment of houses of worship than before when the previous decree limited the freedom of religious minorities.
Indonesias top officials said the interfaith forums would be formed by independent regional groupings of leaders from various faiths with the primary mission to resolve inter-religious conflicts. Meanwhile, local administration heads will be given a role in "maintaining interfaith harmony" by coordinating the interfaith forum and the religious affairs agencies in the regions, AKI reported.
In the predominantly Muslim nation of Indonesia, Christians have found it difficult to set up churches as the current 1969 decree requires permission from local authorities and local residents before constructing places of worship.
In the past year, an accelerating trend of church closures in West Java under the threat of Islamic extremists has raised Christian concern both locally and internationally. According to a report released on Sept. 8 by U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the recent church closures in Indonesia share a common pattern and appear to be part of a wider scheme by militant hardliners.
Even some moderate Muslims have criticized the extremists activities, according to local agencies. As a result, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged his governments commitment to protect the religious freedom of all citizens and called on the community to help prevent violence against any faith.
In addition, the government was prompted to revise the 1969 decree and to revoke legislation incompatible with international guarantees of religious freedom.
According to another Indonesian newspaper, Antara, the minister of religious affairs, Mohammad Maftuh Basyuni, said after Wednesdays meeting, "Hopefully, revisions can be completed later in September."