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Indonesian minister sticks to his guns on church permit

Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas says he has no guilt for calling Cilegon city intolerant for refusing permission to a church

Indonesia's Minister of Religion Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas

Indonesia's Minister of Religion Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas. (Photo: ministry's website)

Published: September 22, 2022 11:19 AM GMT

Updated: September 22, 2022 11:20 AM GMT

Indonesia's minister of religion affairs remains defiant after a Muslim group sued him for calling a city in Banten province intolerant for not allowing the construction of a church.

Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas said he felt no guilt about his recent statement related to the denial of a building permit to the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) Maranatha for constructing a church at Geram village in Cilegon city.

“What article [did I violate]? If I forbid people [to build houses of worship], it will become a problem,” he told reporters on Sept. 21.

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Al-Khairiya, a Muslim organization based in Cilegon filed a lawsuit on Sept. 16 against the minister, who is a member of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest moderate Islamic organization.

Ahmad Munji, general secretary of Al-Khairiya said the lawsuit was filed in response to Quomas' statement on a widely-circulated video “in which he called Cilegon city as intolerant because of refusing permission to the HKBP Maranatha church.”

The group also sued the church’s leaders and its construction committee for its public outbursts that made headlines on Sept. 7.

A Muslim group calling themselves the Committee of Local Wisdom Savior staged a protest against the church in Cilegon city.

The church was founded in 1999 and has 3,903 members who usually go to another church located about 40 kilometers away from the village for Sunday services.

Reverend Hotman T.M. Marbun from the church said the concerned authorities had refused to give approval despite the church building committee abiding by a 2006 joint ministerial decree that regulates the places of worship.

The case prompted Quomas to summon the mayor and his deputy and ask them not to discuss the issue.

Petrus Selestinus, a Catholic and chairman of a lawyers' group set up to defend the state secular ideology of Pancasila hopes that Minister Quomas will continue to stand above the constitution in dealing with this issue.

"Don't let the tyranny of minorities rule this nation. I think it's time for the rules that discriminate to be abolished if we really are a Pancasila state," he told UCA News.

In Cilegon city there are no other houses of worship as the local people used the Serang district head’s 1975 decree providing for the closure of Christian places of worship in the area as an excuse.

According to the city’s Central Statistics Agency, there are 382 mosques and 287 other Muslim prayer rooms in the city and no houses of worship for other religions, although there are thousands of people of other religions, including 6,740 Christians, and 1,743 Catholics.

A report by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace says Catholic and Protestant churches often face resistance in Indonesia since 2017 in the form of refusal for construction, and destruction in attacks including bombings.

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