Indonesia's Constitutional Court recommended a catch-all category be created – "Believers of the Faith" – for people who refused to embrace one of the six regulated religions.

Rights groups say Indonesians who refused to embrace one of the regulated religions on their identity cards had limited access to education, restricted employment opportunities and were denied legal marriage.
Rights groups say Indonesians who refused to embrace one of the regulated religions on their identity cards had limited access to education, restricted employment opportunities and were denied legal marriage. (Reuters)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court on Tuesday affirmed the rights of devotees of faiths outside the country’s officially recognised religions, in a move activists welcomed as a "new chapter for religious freedom."

Against a backdrop of religious tensions in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the court said Indonesians would not be required to identify as either Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian on their national identification cards.

The ruling reviewed followed a legal challenge by followers of some of Indonesia's indigenous faiths.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos from the Setara Institute, a group that advocates for religious harmony, said Indonesians who refused to embrace one of the regulated religions on their identity cards had limited access to education, restricted employment opportunities and were denied legal marriage.

The Court recommended that a seventh, catch-all category be created – "Believers of the Faith" – for ID cards.

"This is a new chapter for religious freedom in Indonesia for both government and followers of indigenous religions," Naipospos said. "This is a door for the government to recognise their rights."

A spokesman for Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo could not immediately be reached for comment.

Indonesia's founding constitution says the state is based on the belief in the "One and Only God" but guarantees "each and every citizen the freedom of religion and worship."

However, blasphemy laws passed in 1965 stipulated only six religions would be protected. Subsequent regulations and laws effectively enshrined those as the only religions recognised by the state.

"The ruling (on Tuesday) means the end of Indonesia recognising only six religions," said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.

In the 2000 census, about 400,000 people identified as holding beliefs outside the six main religions, although Harsono said this probably underestimated the extent of believers in non-recognised faiths.

Across Indonesia's vast chain of islands, more than 200 distinctive native faiths, such as the Sundanese people's Wiwitan, the Dayak's Kaharingan and the Torajan's Aluk To Dolo survived even as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam dominated during different eras.

Its people also blended elements of the major religions over time and infused them with animist and mystical beliefs.

The court ruling should also apply to followers of non-indigenous religions such as Bahai and Judaism that are not formally recognised in Indonesia, said Nia Sjarifudin of the Unity in Diversity Alliance.