, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 05/26/2006 12:50 PM
M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The government will maintain references to religions on identity cards for the time being, the home minister says.
""There has never been a plan to drop religions from ID cards,"" M. Ma'ruf told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a House of Representatives hearing Thursday.
Earlier this month, ministry secretary-general Progo Nurdjaman said that the government was considering dropping the reference to religions on ID cards after protests from numerous minority faiths.
Progo said classing people by their religions was unnecessary and could be used by intolerant groups to incite sectarian violence.
Opposition, however, quickly mounted against the proposal.
In April, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin told Antara the idea was preposterous.
""In a secular country, a column for religions on ID cards is unnecessary, but we should not follow this standard. People here identify themselves by their religions,"" he said.
Secularism is enshrined in the nation's Constitution.
Din said injustice rather than religion caused most conflict in the country. The government should tackle poverty and injustice rather than remove religious references from state documents, he said.
Stating one's religion is compulsory on ID cards along with details of one's date of birth, marital status and occupation.
The problem is the state recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
People of other faiths must choose one of the six if they want a valid ID card -- a move that human rights groups have long criticized as discriminatory.
Chinese Confucians and Taoists used to suffer the most from the requirement, with many writing Buddhist or Christian in the religion column.
Now, the Confucians are officially recognized -- in theory. One ID application form seen by The Jakarta Post included a six box marked ""other"" -- presumably where followers of Confucius could write their religion.
But would these ""other"" religions be recognized by local officials? Many Confucians think not and continue to tick one of the five main faiths when they get a new card.
However, according to Ma'ruf, a man in the East Java town of Malang applied successfully for an ID card as a Confucian.
""It was the right decision as it was in line with the Constitution,"" he said.
Swandy Sihotang of the non-governmental organization the Coalition for Civil Registrations said there was no good reason for the government to continue the identity card policy.
""There are millions of people whose faiths are not recognized and have to pretend they believe in one of five recognized religions. The government should start paying attention to them,"" Swandy told the Post.