Indonesia historically has been a nation in which religious freedom is practices and welcomed by the vast majority of inhabitants but there have been several recent incidents in which Islamic militants have exerted pressure on local authorities to halt the practice of non-Muslim religions. Members of the Bible Oneness Church and the Protestant Batak Christian church had to pray this week at the site of their ruined church which was torn down by angry Islamic militants. Sanor Siagian, speaking for members of the congregation expressed their feeling: “we’ll be holding service here until the district head provides a new house of worship for us.”
The dispute began in 2005 when Islamic groups exerted pressure to have the church destroyed because it lacked necessary permits. The police intervened and assured the Christians they would be allowed to use the house of worship until a new site could be found. However, the church was destroyed and police authorities have delayed issuing the necessary permits. It is difficult reconciling Indonesia’s commitment to religious freedom with the bureaucratic rules that hamper the free expression of religion. Last week an “heretical” Muslim sect was closed down and told they had to alter their religious ideas to conform with the accepted Muslim version. These are ominous signs that freedom of religion in Indonesia is threatened.