Diana Mariska, Jakarta – Representatives of the Association of Indonesian Churches, or PGI, met Indonesia's chief security minister Mahfud M.D. on Thursday to tell him their fear of rising religious intolerance against minorities and warn him of a sharp drop in religious freedom in the country.
"This is a national crisis. Some churches are being prevented from holding services. Getting permission to build churches also remains a very complicated process in some places," PGI chairman Gomar Gultom said after meeting Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud.
Several churches in Indonesia have been forced to close their doors by intolerant groups, including the Yasmin Church in Bogor and Filadelfia Church in Bekasi.
"The minister and I discussed the Yasmin and Filadelfia cases specifically. These churches were established legally, so there's no reason why the government should be coerced by particular groups [and allow them being closed down]. The government has the power to solve these problems," Gomar said.
Gomar said the main message he wanted to get across to the government is to act more decisively in protecting the religious rights of all Indonesian citizens, including Christians.
The PGI also asked for the government to revise the requirements for the so-called "collective decision letter" (SKB), which anyone who wants to open a house of worship has to obtain from the Interfaith Harmony Forum (FKUB).
According to Gomar, the FKUB has been given too much power. "The FKUB makes their decisions by voting instead of deliberation. That's against Indonesian values," Gomar said.
"The state has the authority to issue permits for houses of worship, not the FKUB. The FKUB is a civil body, not a state agency. They should not have that power," Gomar said.
Mahfud said revisions to the SKB requirements had been discussed during the meeting. However, according to him, the PGI representatives seemed quite pleased with the current state of things.
"I met the PGI representatives this morning, but there were some hesitations about the revisions. The SKB allows the establishment of a house of worship once the administrative requirements are fulfilled. The revisions may cause the permit to be processed by local authorities, and there's every chance it would not be granted," Mahfud said.
A few days ago, another case of religious intolerance in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, attracted the attention of national media. Local news outlets initially reported that a teacher had fined her Muslim students Rp 30,000 ($2) each for going to see the Chinese Cap Go Meh celebrations.
The teacher, Rusnaini, said she had merely tried to teach her elementary school students not to partake in the rituals of other religions.
"I only wanted to stop my Muslim students from getting into the habit of celebrating [Cap Go Meh] since it's actually a [Buddhist] ritual," Rusnaini said. "Some of these students still don't understand the rules [in Islam], and it's my responsibility as their religion teacher to teach them that knowledge, to build their character."
Rusnaini has made a public apology after the parents of one of the students protested about the fine. The student had refused to go to school after she was told to pay the fine.