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State and Religion relationship in Indonesian Constitution

Friday, December 7, 2007

An excerpt from my newspaper article:

Unlike in theocratic states, in Indonesia, clerics may issue a verdict (fatwa) but this verdict is not legally binding.

It is important to note that the word "God" appeared many times on the Indonesian constitution. Nevertheless, unlike the UK/Greece model, Indonesian Constitution is silent with regard to recognition of a particular religion.

There is no single article in our Constitution that mentions the name of a particular religion. Article 29 stipulates "the state is based on the belief in the One and Supreme God" but does not explain further -- "God according to who?"

Moreover, although Indonesia "is based in the one and only god", the constitutional practices in the past allowed non-atheistic beliefs (as implemented by the Indonesian Communist Party and local beliefs such as kejawen) to grow.

I therefore tend to conclude the Indonesian model sits somewhere between the German and the Greece/UK model.

The Indonesian Constitution is not neutral towards religion. It is "pro-religion" in the sense that it prefers and supports a theistic worldview rather than the non-theist worldview, but is nevertheless neutral on which theistic view it prefers the most. Thus, the idea of "state-acknowledged religions" (agama yang diakui negara) actually has no constitutional basis.

A pro-religion constitution means that religious adherents may enjoy more freedom of religion in positive terms (the freedom to exercise) through state facilities compared to adherents of non/atheistic beliefs.

However, the negative freedom (the freedom not to be forced toward a particular religion or belief) of all persons remains protected. The power struggle within a particular religion is clearly not the business of the state.

The state has no constitutional authority to dictate its citizens on which version of God it shall worship. Forcing a particular religious interpretation would infringe article 29 (2) of the Constitution.

That means, if you are a moslem and works at public institution, you can wear a scarf (in Germany this could be prohibited if you work as a teacher, as it tends to influence the pupils, whereas the state has to be neutral from religion) and government offices can also be used for religious activities. However, if you are an atheist, you cannot expect the government to allow you to use their facilities to perform your ritual. You can do it somewhere else of course, at the government needs to protect that.