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Indonesia: Official Bans Christmas Celebrations in Java Island’s Maja District

There is a small community of about 2,500 Orthodox Christians in Indonesia. Get information about Holy Orthodoxy in Indonesia here.

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Indonesia, see here.

“Official Bans Christmas Celebrations in District in Indonesia,” Morning Star News, December 21, 2022:

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Morning Star News) – A high-level official in western Indonesia on Saturday (Dec. 17) announced an agreement with a multi-faith body that prohibits Christmas celebrations in a district at sites without government approval.

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 (FKUB) that restricts Christmas celebrations in Maja, one of 28 districts under her jurisdiction.

“There is no prohibition, but based on the results of an agreement from the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) deliberations, Christmas joint worship [in Maja District] may only be held in places that are in accordance with the permits,” Iti said in a press statement on Saturday (Dec. 17).

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.

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.

“In Rangkasbitung there will be a joint [multi-faith but non-religious] Christmas celebration on Dec. 27, and the combined Christians and I will come,” Iti, a Muslim, said on Dec. 14 in Rangkasbitung at a coordination meeting for Christmas and New Year preparations, according to news outlet Kompas.com.

The former head of the Communion of Indonesian Churches (PGI), Andreas A. Yewangoe, told Morning Star News that banning Christmas celebrations in Lebak Regency should bring reproach.

“The central government must sternly reprimand the regent, since it is against the values of Pancasila and the constitution,” Yewangoe said.

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.

The right to hold religious services is solidly stated in the Indonesian Constitution, said Yewangoe, a member of the Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (BPIP), a newly established government body.

“So it should be that everyone has that right,” he told Morning Star News. “That right is actually a human right which derives from God.”

There are no churches or other houses of worship for minority faiths in Maja District due to the strict regulations imposed on Christians and other minorities.

Of Lebak Regency’s more than 1.4 million inhabitants, 0.14 percent are Protestant Christians and 0.7 percent are Roman Catholics, Mumu Najamuddin, head of the Cross-Religious Forum of Lebak Regency states on the Banten Department of Religious Affairs’ website (banten.kemenag.go.id).

Social activist Ignas Iryanto Djou said Iti’s restriction contradicts the cultural values of the Sunda ethnic group to which she belongs.

“It is against the basic principles of the Sundanese community that inherently requires people to love each other regardless of differences,” Ignas told Morning Star News. “There are also three principles of interaction in Sundanese society – helping one another, loving one another and caring for one another to grow fully as human beings.”

All these values are in line with Pancasila, he said.

“And it is why Pancasila should be obeyed by all citizens without exception,” Ignas said. “Besides, the right to worship according to one’s beliefs is a basic human right that is recognized as an element of human rights.”

Contradicting National Permission

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.

Muhadjir Effendy Muhadjir, coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, made the announcement during a security coordination meeting for Christmas and New Year’s at National Police Headquarters in Jakarta on Friday (Dec. 16), saying, “For this year, there will be no restrictions for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.”…

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