International Seminar on Indigenous and Minority Religions

The Constitutional Court Decision 97/2016, followed by the Circular Letter (2018) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, officially legalized Indonesian citizens to mark their identity on ID cards as kepercayaan (indigenous religions). This significant change has invited attention to re-think issues affecting citizens who follow indigenous religions. While the Decision intended to accommodate aspirations of followers of kepercayaan for equal treatment, the Letter has complicated the decision by mandating two separate ID cards, agama and kepercayaan. The Letter has created confusion among followers of kepercayaan and minority religions, as well as exclusion of other citizen groups who do not affiliate officially with either category of agama or kepercayaan

The Decision and the Letter are significant indicators of the State’s progress in recognizing and providing services to followers of indigenous religions. Throughout Indonesian history, these groups have not been recognized as full citizens. Their citizenship rights have been denied, forcing them to affiliate to one of six officially recognized religions (agama). Kepercayaan, the category for indigenous religions, was sanctioned as merely “cultural” and not religious, making it an invalid category for full citizenship. Affiliating as kepercayaan brought social stigma of having “no religion”, which even extended to being labelled as atheist, anti-religious and communist. The Decision, which is the result of decades of advocacy, is meant to end the above discriminations. As kepercayaan is now a valid category for full citizenship, the above stigmas are now legally unsupported.

Public response to the legal recognition of indigenous religions have been mixed. Soon after the Decisition was announced, it generated controversy in public discourse. The Indonesian Muslim Council (MUI) was the most vocal populist agent against the Decision. It claimed that the Decision was against “a politically-established agreement” that kepercayaan is not religion. Some other agencies made statements which followed MUI’s viewpoint. However, MUI also stated that followers of kepercayaan are citizens who should have equal rights as any other citizen for just treatment from the State, and their citizenship rights must be granted. Their objection was that kepercayaan should be distinguished from agama (religion). In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued the Letter as legal guideline for civic administration. ID cards of followers of the six religions would be distinguished from ID cards of followers of kepercayaan. Administratively speaking, government agencies have now effectively utilized both agama and kepercayaan as citizenship categories for services and protection.

However, these two citizenship categories – agama and kepercayaan – remain problematic. Classifying citizens into two categories, especially when the two are seen to be mutually exclusive, simplifies the complexity of kepercayaan as well as religious phenomena. As a response to these administrative categorizations, groups of kepercayaan have adopted different positions: those who firmly declare their identity of kepercayaan in ID cards; those who are members of kepercayaan organizations but affiliate to one of the recognized religions; and individuals who are not affiliated to a registered organization of kepercayaan. Member of certain groups have been challenged as to whether they are actual followers of kepercayaan. To complicate things further, citizens whose column for religion in their ID cards is blank (based on the policy before the Constitutional Court Decision) and who do not officially belong to kepercayaan, now have no space for official recognition, insofar as the regulation on ID card is concerned.

The issues highlighted above are only a few of the many important challenges related to kepercayaan and minority religions. This international seminar is dedicated to addressing a variety of issues related to new developments in indigenous and minority religions. Scholars, researchers, activists and practitioners are invited to take part in discussions of the following and other related themes:

PANEL I: Law and Religious Governance

Indonesian governance of religion recognized the diversity of religions. However there are a number of shortcomings stemming from the narrow definition of what “agama” is (including what “true agama” is, deviation from which may constitute a criminal offense), and how religions relate to the state. In addition to those issues, demands for more recognition of particular religions (for example, as manifested in attempts to refer to Islamic or other religious teachings to justify national or local laws and regulations) have also increased. The Constitutional Court, the main interpreter of freedom of religion or belief, have shown some ambiguities in this regard, not the least in the 2017 Decision on the religion column of the ID card. While the Decision was hailed as a significant progress, this panel will look at how much has it changed Indonesian legal framework of governance of religions? Do minority religions (or minorities within religions) enjoy equal recognition? This panel will also delve into constitutional comparisons with other Asian countries.

PANEL II: The Citizenship of Minority Religions

Citizenship is often understood in political theory as a secular framework of rights and duties. With the dominant role of religion in society, the secular conception of citizenship has been challenged in several cases. This panel looks at various conceptions on citizenship, the possibilities of religious pluralism in citizenship, the implementation of religious pluralism and tolerance to those less recognized as citizens, and particularly the impact of minority status on citizenship. A number of individuals from minority religious groups have been restricted to have ID cards or to apply for certain jobs or to have access to government aids. Some of them have even been displaced from their homes and villages and living in shelters for years. Their beliefs were not protected, let alone recognized and fulfilled. Although they are Indonesian citizens, but they live more like stateless people. Some said that to become a full citizen, someone needs to be part of mainstream religious groups.

PANEL III: The Administration of Minority Religions and Citizenship

With the decision of the Constitutional Court No 97/2016, followed by the Circular Letter (2018) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Indonesia officially opened a new phase of its administration of religion. Followers of indigenous religions, for instance, are allowed to mark their identity on ID cards as kepercayaan (indigenous religions). This panel aims to look at the implementation, difficulties and barriers for the implementation, and future religious relationship in Indonesia after that decision. The implementation of that decision would include the marriage system for followers of indigenous and minority religions, religious education for their children, space for them in public cemeteries, the system of oath, and religious holidays.

Venue: Widya Graha LIPI, Lt. 1, Jl. Gatot Subroto No. 10 Jakarta
Date: Monday, 19 August 2019

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