New Religion Law Will Help: Minister

A proposal for a new law on religious issues that may soon make its way to the House of Representatives has been welcomed by some, but others warn that it may restrict religious freedom.

Ministers have responded to a perceived rise in radicalism and religious intolerance by announcing that a new “bill on religious harmony” is being discussed.

According to Agung Laksono, coordinating minister for people’s welfare, the bill, which was suggested after a meeting between Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, would “legislate for better religious understanding on the ground.” He added that the bill was intended to head off potential sectarian conflicts, which have been on the rise.

“To maintain harmony, we need a regulation that contains both conflict prevention and solutions to the problems obstructing religious harmony,” he said.

While Agung said that discussions were at an early stage, another lawmaker, Abdul Kadir Karding, chairman of House Commission VIII, which oversees social affairs, said the bill had been on the table for some time.

Karding warned that unless the bill was carefully constructed, it would become a tool of “hard-line groups to limit freedom of religion.”

He said that current laws have led to violence against religious groups not recognized by the government, citing the cases of the Tegal in Central Java, the dismantling of a Buddha statue in North Sumatra, attacks on the minority Ahmadiyah sect and intimidation of Christians in Bogor.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

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