House representatives met in a special plenary session on June 10 to discuss final issues and endorse the bill. However the largest political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) called a boycott on the meeting, delaying the endorsement until the following day. The majority of politicians agreed to endorse the bill on June 11. “Our failure to endorse the bill today will give rise to increasing disappointment among the public,” said Agun Gunanjar, a member of the Gokar Party.
Under article 13 of the proposed law, a Christian school with 10 or more Muslim students must provide Islamic worship facilities and two hours of Islamic instruction per week for these students. The teacher holding these classes must be a qualified Islamic instructor. The same rule will apply to Muslim and Hindu schools with 10 or more students from other religions.
Christian schools are popular in Indonesia because of their high academic standards. Some estimates say as many as 65 percent of students at Christian schools are from Muslim families.
A key member of the Christian community, who asked not to be named, said leaders of Protestant and Catholic churches have decided not to implement the new policies. “The Christian and Catholic (sic) schools have had a long discussion on what to do if the bill becomes law. One thing for sure, they will not follow things they cannot tolerate.”
The bill was a key issue at the National Prayer Conference held in Jakarta May 12 to 15. Abdurahman Wahid (also known as Gus Dur), former president of Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, addressed the crowd of 11,000 people on the third night of the conference. He spoke out very clearly against the new bill, earning a loud round of applause.
Muslim groups are divided over the bill. Thousands of members of the Islamic Solidarity Forum held a rally in Yogyakarta on May 27 to show their support for the bill. The Forum of the Koran Reading Community in Greater Jakarta and West Java virtually demanded that the House endorse the new legislation.
However, in a Jakarta Post commentary on May 9, Muslim scholar Ulil Absar Abdala said there were many other options for religious instruction. He also claimed Christian schools were not a threat to Muslim students. “A Muslim studying in a non-Muslim school does not always have to end up with a conversion to another religion, or vice versa.”
Kornelius Purba, staff writer for the Jakarta Post, remarked on May 20 that “the government apparently does not realize the danger of the bill at the grassroots level.”
In response to public discontent, a sub-committee was appointed to address controversial issues in the bill. These included articles 3 and 4, which described the goals and aims of education; article 13, dealing with religious education in schools; and another article listing five religions officially recognized by the government.
Heri Akhmadi and several other members of the PDI Perjuangan suggested changes to article 13. “We propose a new clause in the explanation saying that schools and parents have to resolve the issue on religious classes on their own,” Akhmadi told the Jakarta Post on May 14. “This means the government … respects the authority of private schools.”
The sub-committee rejected their proposal.
In the meeting on June 10, the government made minor changes to the remaining controversial issues of the bill. However article 13 governing religious instruction in schools remained unchanged.
Members of the House told the Jakarta Post they regretted the absence of the PDI Perjuangan, as it would give President Megawati a pretext not to sign the bill. However the 1945 constitution states that a bill will come into effect within 30 days of endorsement by the House, even without the president’s approval.
The bill does not mention penalties for any breaches of the legislation, although the implementation of the new law will be monitored by the House.The Christian community in Indonesia stands by their decision not to implement the new measures. Christians in North Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua, provinces with large Christian populations, said they would seek independence if the bill became law.
Copyright 2003 Compass Direct