Jakarta – Hundreds of congregation members of the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin in Bogor, West Java, had perhaps been exhausted after 15 years of fighting for their freedom of religion that they finally accepted the mayor's offer to build a new church located only 1.5 kilometers away from their dream house of worship.
They could finally assemble in the brand-new church, renamed GKI West Bogor, for an Easter Sunday mass service on April 9, for the first time after years of waiting. The church was inaugurated with much fanfare, with the presence of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD and Home Minister Tito Karnavian.
The attendance of two powerful ministers seemed to demonstrate the state's commitment to the protection of freedom of religion. Unfortunately, it was the state's inaction that deprived the GKI Yasmin congregations of their constitutional right to worship. They had secured all requirements to build their church back in 2006, but they could not make it due to resistance, if not intimidation, from hard-line Muslim groups.
Even when the Supreme Court upheld the congregation's right in 2010, the state – the Bogor mayor and the central government – failed the minority religious group with its cowardice in facing the noisy, intolerant element of the majority religion.
Mayor Bima Arya, who inherited the mess from his predecessor Dani Budiarto, expressed regret for his inability to solve the conflict. Unsurprisingly, he praised the congregation's acceptance to relocate their church as a happy ending for all.
Not everybody is happy with the endgame, however. The inauguration of the new church has divided the congregation, with those against the relocation labeling the Bogor city government-mediated agreement as a bad compromise.
In fact, Bima emulated his predecessor in succumbing to pressures from the hard-line Muslim groups who did not want the GKI Yasmin congregation to build their church on a plot of land of their choice. Relocation was the wish of the intolerant group in the first place.
The government's support for such a compromise has set a bad precedent for solutions to conflicts related to the implementation of freedom of religion in other parts of the country. Rather than ending acts of intolerance, the GKI Yasmin model will only proliferate them.
There are numerous minority religious groups across the country who could not fulfill their dream of building their houses of worship, because the government insists on preserving an obsolete joint ministerial decree that raises the bar high for minority groups to exercise their beliefs. None of the five presidents after the Reform movement have managed to overhaul the regulation, which in practice discriminates against minorities.
The GKI Yasmin case also confirms that legal uncertainty remains a chronic problem in the country that claims to uphold the rule of law. How come the government, both at the regional and central levels, defied a Supreme Court ruling, which is final and binding, only to satisfy certain groups who hide their agenda behind religion?
The government may have quashed radical and intolerant groups like the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), but inconsistent enforcement of the law, if not failure to enforce it, will only embolden other groups to rear their ugly heads. In yet another test of compliance with the rule of law, the police in Lampung have been facing mounting pressures from Muslim groups to release a neighborhood unit head who they arrested after he dissolved a Sunday mass service.
All in all, the nation can take pride in its founding motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity), but it is still struggling to promote religious tolerance as the fundamental fabric of this plural society. We should therefore acknowledge the work of civil society groups like Setara Institute, which has regularly released its tolerance index of cities and regencies across the country to measure how we perform on this delicate front.
Bogor has improved its index, thanks in part to the efforts to solve the GKI Yasmin stalemate, but we have to keep our watchful eyes on many other cases that continue to stall. The potential comeback of identity politics in the upcoming elections would also undermine the progress we have achieved in upholding religious tolerance.