Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Indonesia: Constitutional Court Opens Way to Recognition of Native Faiths

(Nov. 17, 2017) On November 7, 2017, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi Republik Indonesia) issued a decision that will allow Indonesians who follow native faiths to list their religions on official forms.  According to Justice Arief Hidayat, several articles in the Law on Population Administration are discriminatory and “contradict the 1945 Constitution and these articles are not legally binding.”  (Marguerite Afra Sapiie, Constitutional Court Rules Indigenous Faiths ‘Acknowledged’ by State, JAKARTA POST (Nov. 7, 2017);  Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 23 Tahun 2006 Tentang Administrasi Kependudukan [Law of the Republic of Indonesia No. 23, 2006, on Population Administration] (Dec. 29, 2006),  House of Representatives website; Law 24 of 2013 on Amendment to Law 23 of 2006 on Population Administration (Dec. 24, 2013), REFWORLD.)

The Law had required that followers of religions other than the major faiths leave the line for religion blank on their national ID cards.  The Court decision came as a result of the challenge to the Law filed by four people who follow indigenous religions, whose argument was that the Law violated the ideal of equality before the law.  According to the Ministry of Culture and Education, Indonesia has at least 12 million followers of 1,200 native faith groups.  (Sapiie, supra.)  The explication attached to the Indonesian Law on Blasphemy states that Indonesia officially recognizes six major religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.  (Penjelasan Penetapan Presiden Republik Indonesia Nomor 1 Tahun 1965 Tentang Pencegahan Penyalahgunaan Dan/Atau Penodaan Agama [Explanation of Presidential Decree No. 1 of 1965 on Prevention of Misuse of Religion and/or Blasphemy] (Jan. 27, 1965), HUKUMONLINE (click on pdf icon); Moses with Ompusunggu, Rights Group Welcomes Landmark Court Ruling on Native Faiths, JAKARTA POST (Nov. 7, 2017).)

Commenting on the issue, Justice Saldi Isra said that the disputed articles of the Law on Population Administration had created trouble for followers of faiths other than the major six, including problems in obtaining e-ID and family registration cards, marriage registration, and access to services provided by the civil administrative offices.  (Sapiie supra.)  Saldi added that now followers of native faiths should, when filing for family registration and e-ID cards, indicate that they are native faith followers (penghayat kepercayaan) and that they do not need to add other details.  (Id.)

Tigor Naipospos of the Setara Institute noted that Indonesians not identified with one of the major religions faced limits in education and employment, as well as marriage registration.  (Tom Allard & Jessica Damiana, Indonesian Court Recognizes Native Religions in Landmark Ruling, REUTERS (Nov. 7, 2017).)  The Setara Institute describes itself as founded by people “dedicated to the ideal that everyone should be treated equal while respecting diversity, giving priority to solidarity and upholding human dignity.”  (Setara Institute Profile, Setara Institute website (last visited Nov. 9, 2017).)

Reactions to the Court Decision

The Setara Institute welcomed the Constitutional Court decision, stating that it could put an end to the discrimination faced by religious minorities and that “[i]deally the state would not discriminate against its citizens when they declare their religious identity on the population administration register.”  (Ompusunggu, supra.)  Tjahjo Kumolo, the Home Minister, said that his ministry would coordinate with other government offices to comply with the Court ruling and compile data on native faiths.  The Home Affairs Ministry, he said, would incorporate information on those faiths in the population administration system.  (Id.)  Nia Sjarifudin of the Unity in Diversity Alliance opined that the ruling would also apply to followers of Baha’i and Judaism, faiths that are not indigenous to Indonesia but are not among the six religions that are formally recognized.  (Allard & Damiana, supra.)

Indonesia’s House of Representatives is planning to revise the Law on Population Administration (also known as the Civil Administration Law).  Zainuddin Amalia, the chair of the House Commission on Home Affairs, said on November 8 that a meeting would be held after the end of the current House recess period on November 15, to discuss a revision.  (House to Revise Civil Administration Law in Wake of Court Ruling, JAKARTA POST (Nov. 8, 2017).)