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Court recognises Indonesian native faiths in victory for religious freedom
Sydney Morning Herald - November 8, 2017
She is among perhaps 15 million native-faith followers in Indonesia who have been discriminated against for decades by Indonesia's policy of only recognising six official religions.
As it stands, Indonesians have had to either list their religion as Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian on their national identification cards – or leave the religion field blank.
But those who left their ID cards blank had difficulty registering their marriage, obtaining birth certificates, accessing employment as civil servants and applying for government services.
Now, in an historic victory for religious freedom in Indonesia, the Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday it was discriminatory to require native-faith followers to leave the religion field blank.
Constitutional Court Judge Saldi Isra said this was not in line with the spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which enshrines religious freedom.
The court recommended that a seventh category be created – native-faith followers – although the card would not specify the particular faith.
Sunda Wiwitan is one of several hundred native-faith beliefs across Indonesia. They follow an animistic system of belief but over time have been influenced by other religions including Hinduism and Islam.
Ms Dewi welcomed the Constitutional Court decision. "Our fight has borne fruit," she said.
"The most important thing is the restoration of civil rights especially for those who have been stigmatised. Under the repressive New Order regime, I was stigmatised as (following) a deviant sect. This is a realisation on the part of policymakers that there has been an abuse of our constitutional rights."
Despite practising a native Javanese faith, Ms Dewi's husband had been forced to put "Catholic" on his ID card so the couple could obtain birth certificates for their children.
She said it was almost impossible to know how many people still adhered to Sunda Wiwitan, because there were no administrative records. "In 1964 there were around 10,000 to 15,000 of us," she said.
However blasphemy laws passed in 1965 stipulated only six religions would be officially recognised.
"The New Order regime said it was compulsory for all citizens to follow a religion, this was a policy to fight communism because communism was regarded as atheist or not believing in God," said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the vice chairperson of the Setara Institute for democracy and peace.
"Native faith was regarded as not believing in God because it was ethnocentric."
He said the Constitutional Court ruling provided protection to followers of native faiths and granted equality among followers of other religions.
Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said the court ruling marked the end of Indonesia only recognising six religions.