Children at Holy Cross Parish in Sintang Diocese, West Kalimantan, take part in Sunday School activities in this April 3, 2017 file photo. (Photo supplied)
Christian organizations in Indonesia have roundly condemned a new religious education bill that would require them to seek government permission to conduct Sunday school, catechesis or Bible classes.
The draft law on "Islamic boarding schools and religious education" stipulates that to hold these activities, they should have at least 15 participants and the approval of the Religious Affairs Ministry.
It is expected the bill, which seeks to regulate how religion is taught in schools and set in stone how government supports and finances it, will be passed sometime next year.
Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula from the Education Commission at the Indonesian bishops' conference called the provisions "a threat" to Christian communities.
"It limits Christians in conducting important and inseparable parts of religious activities," he told ucanews.com.
"The main responsibility of the state is to protect, to ensure that every religion can propagate their activities and not regulate and restrict them," he said.
The priest, who is also chairman of the Indonesian Catholics Education Council, said the bill when it becomes law — could potentially be used by hard-line groups to carry out intolerant acts against Christian ones.
"It will be used by intolerant groups to justify banning activities they will claim are not in accordance with the law's provision," he said.
Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Indonesian Communion of Churches said Sunday schools and catechesis are informal education activities so should not be regulated and treated as formal education.
"Both are part of the church services for children and teenagers, and which are part of our worship," he said.
Juventus Prima Yoris Kagoo, chairman of the Indonesia Catholic Students Association, said he supports the government paying more attention to religious education, but feels in this case it is going a bit too far.
"The government should limit itself to [regulate only] formal schools. For informal activities such as Sunday schools, let the churches apply their own standards," he told ucanews.com.
An online petition against the bill launched by Christianson Change.org has attracted more than 161,000 signatures, demanding the state leave Sunday school and catechism classes alone.
Responding to the criticism, Ace Hasan Syadzily, a lawmaker who co-authored the draft law, said the draftees were open to input, especially religious organizations.
"We want to schedule meetings with representatives from each religion, including Catholics and Protestants," he said Oct. 27.