A high-level official in western Indonesia on Dec. 17 announced an agreement with a multi-faith body that prohibits Christmas celebrations in a district at sites without government approval, Morning Star News reported.
The agreement effectively bans religious Christmas celebrations in Java Island’s Maja District, Banten Province as strict requirements and bureaucratic opposition make obtaining official worship permits impossible for small fellowships. The announcement comes despite lack of any national-level restrictions on religious Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the Muslim-majority country.
The head of Lebak Regency in Banten Province, Iti Octavia Jayabaya, revealed the agreement with the Forum for Religious Harmony that restricts Christmas celebrations in Maja, one of 28 districts under her jurisdiction.
Requirements for obtaining permission to build houses of worship in Indonesia are onerous and hamper the establishment of such buildings for Christians and other faiths. Rights advocates say Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 makes requirements for obtaining permits nearly impossible for most new churches.
Delays and lack of response
Even when small, new churches are able to meet the requirement of obtaining 90 signatures of approval from congregation members and 60 from area households of different religions, they are often met with delays or lack of response from officials.
Instead of celebrating Christ’s birth in prohibited venues, Iti said Christians could hold religious Christmas celebrations in nearby Rangkasbitung District. Iti, daughter of previous regent head Mulyadi Jayabaya (2003–2012), said Christians could take public transportation to Rangkasbitung, a town and district about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Maja, for the celebrations.
The former head of the Communion of Indonesian Churches, Andreas A. Yewangoe, told Morning Star News that banning Christmas celebrations in Lebak Regency should bring reproach.
Pancasila is the government’s guiding policy of unity and social justice for all of Indonesia’s various peoples. Yewangoe, one of Indonesia’s leading theologians, said a central government reprimand would represent not only a defense of Christians but would uphold the values of Pancasila and the constitution.
Right to hold religious services
The right to hold religious services is solidly stated in the Indonesian Constitution, said Yewangoe, a member of the Pancasila Ideology Development Agency, a newly established government body.
Iti’s announcement came a day after the Indonesian government confirmed that no restrictions on worship activities and celebrations would be applied to this year’s Christmas and subsequent New Year’s celebrations.
Indonesia ranked 28th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to Open Doors’ WWL report.