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Cablegate: Religious Freedom Discussion Touches Hot Issues

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DE RUEHJA #0081 0200603
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 200603Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4314
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS COLL
RUEHHE/AMEMBASSY HELSINKI 0970
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 3705
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RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS JAKARTA 000081

UNCLASSIFIED
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MTS, INR/EAP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI ID
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DISCUSSION TOUCHES HOT ISSUES

REFERENCES: A. (09) Jakarta 1908
B. (09) Jakarta 1863
1. (U) SUMMARY. ConGen Medan hosted 20 prominent Muslim,
Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and other North Sumatra civil
society leaders at his residence on January 15 in joint
commemoration of Religious Freedom Day and Martin Luther King Day,
to compare religious freedom and inter-ethnic tolerance in the U.S.
and Indonesia. The discussion focused almost entirely on two of
Indonesia's most sensitive religious freedom issues: restrictions
on the Islamic sect Ahmadiyyah and a controversial law requiring
community support in order to establish new houses of worship. The
animated discussion came to an amicable consensus that the only way
to deal with these types of religious controversies is through a
heightened consciousness of tolerance. END SUMMARY.

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2. (U) A group of 20 prominent civil society leaders representing
Indonesia's major religions gathered for two hours at the ConGen
residence on January 15 in joint commemoration of Religious Freedom
Day and Martin Luther King Day. Guests included representatives of
the five major religions from the Forum for Religious Harmony, as
well as clergy, scholars, women leaders, and the media.

HOT BUTTON ISSUES RAISED
------------------------

3. (U) The head of the Coordination Body for Women's Organizations
began the discussion by defending two of Indonesia's controversial
actions restricting religious freedom. One restricted the activities
of the Islamic sect Ahmadiyyah. The decree on Ahmadiyyah restricted
such activities as proselytizing. The other action is a law
requiring community support in order to establish new houses of
worship. This has hindered small Christian communities from
worshipping in homes or opening up churches where their populations
are small.

4. (U) ConGen explained why both issues infringe on freedom of
religion and the how the U.S. Constitution protects such rights,
including the rights of Muslims. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus
then presented in-depth constitutional and theological reasons for
why the houses of worship law violated both the spirit of Indonesian
law and the Koran. One Protestant leader stated that in Indonesia
there are too many local laws concerning religion and not enough
action by the Central Government to protect religious rights
embedded in the Constitution. Muslim leaders, including one of the
provinces most respected theological scholars, basically agreed.
Muslim and non-Muslim guests alike criticized zealots who have
erected barriers between religions which did not exist before.

5. (U) After a lively but civil discussion, the group came to a
consensus that the solution to such inter-religious disputes lay in
teaching young people tolerance and understanding from an early age.
They cited the U.S. as an example. One Muslim scholar who had
traveled to the U.S. on an IVLP noted that contrary to
preconceptions that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, he
observed only tolerance. He recounted observing a long
Muslim-American parade through the main streets of one city which
proceeded without incident.

6. (U) This discussion was notable in that it calmly addressed
issues which have led to heated differences of opinion and violence.
The consensus among Muslims and followers of other faiths was
indicative of North Sumatra's proclivity for people of different
faiths and religions to try to get along. North Sumatra has major
populations of Muslims, Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus and a
diverse ethnic composition, which has contributed to tolerant
attitudes in the interest of harmony.

HUME

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