Biblical law plan alarms bishops

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am

While most of Muslim Indonesia is debating the encroachment of Koranic sharia law, a region in Papua is infuriating Christian authorities by planning to enforce laws based on the Bible.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, director of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Indonesia, said the proposal in the far-flung regency of Manokwari was against the spirit of Indonesia and could spell disaster for the country's interreligious co-existence.

'Any religious-based law violates the spirit of pluralism in Indonesia. In a legal perspective, these laws are against the Pancasila, the national constitution, which is the highest law in Indonesia,' Father Susetyo said.

Pancasila comprises the five tenets of belief in one supreme God, a just and civilised humanity, the unity of Indonesia, a democracy led by the wisdom of deliberations among representatives, and social justice for all people.

'It follows that we reject any religious-based law, whether it is based on the Bible or on the sharia. These laws are not the solution to solve the nation's problems.

'If we endorsed them, I am worried that it would create a never-ending, religious-based, horizontal conflict, and we would fail as a nation,' he said.

Called the 'Gospel Town Bill', Manokwari's proposed law is presented as 'mental and spiritual guidance', and proclaims 'the gospel as good news'. Among the most controversial provisions is Article 26, which stipulates that the 'government may place religious symbols in public places and offices'.

Noteworthy is also Article 30, which prohibits 'the construction of a worship house of other religions near a church'. Christians form the majority in the region of Papua. Yet, with more than 190 million followers of Islam, Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. Indonesia recognises Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism, but its constitution is secular.