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Indonesia

Indonesian court overturns school ban on forced religious attire

Church condemns move by judges to thwart ministerial bid to 'prevent intolerance and discrimination in schools'

Indonesian court overturns school ban on forced religious attire

Children pray in a classroom in a school in Denpasar, Bali. The Indonesian Supreme Court has overturned a ministerial decree banning schools from forcing students to wear religious attire. (Photo: AFP)

The Catholic Church and rights activists have condemned Indonesia’s Supreme Court for invalidating a recent ministerial decree banning state schools from interfering in the religious beliefs of students and teachers, saying the move will encourage discrimination and intolerance in the education system.

The decree was issued by three ministers in February following an outcry over a state vocational senior high school in Padang, West Sumatra province, ordering all female students to wear a hijab, regardless of their religion.

According to the decree, schools must not force students and teachers to wear clothing that identifies people with a certain religion.

However, the Supreme Court overturned the decree in a ruling on May 7, saying it contravened existing laws on the jurisdiction of local governments, child protection and the national education system.

“The court decided the decree was not legal and was therefore invalid,” court spokesman Andi Samsan Nganro said.

Franciscan Father Vincentius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, said he was dismayed by the ruling, saying the Supreme Court decision “ignores the spirit of inclusive dialogue to achieve mutual respect and acknowledge religious and cultural diversity.” 

Schools should be teaching students to respect the rights of others

“The aim of the decree was to prevent intolerance and discrimination in schools, particularly state ones,” Father Mbula told UCA News. 

“Schools must be a safe place for study, where religious differences should not be used as a tool to disrespect others. Schools should be teaching students to respect the rights of others.” 

The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) also criticized the court and questioned how the decree contravened child protection laws as its motive was to help protect the rights of children.  

“Schools must be non-discriminatory and respect human rights, religious and cultural values as well as national diversity,” Retno Listyarti, a KPAI commissioner, told UCA News. 

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Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying he would consult with the education, culture, research and technology minister and home affairs minister on what to do next. All three had signed the ministerial decree.

He said the decree was necessary to stamp out a growing problem of religious intolerance in schools and again cited the Padang school row in which the school had tried to force a Christian girl to wear a Muslim headscarf.

The Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry refused to comment, only saying it will study the decision.

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