Secularism Needed for Religious Freedom

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Religion has a huge influence on the lives of Indonesian people up to now. The Pew Research Center survey released June 13, 2018 found that 93% of Indonesians view religion as very important in their lives. This finding places Indonesia in the ranks of the countries with the most religious societies in the world together with Pakistan and Afghanistan, where more than 90% of their societies view religion as very important.

Reading this social reality, it is very understandable that the Founders from the beginning provided a special space for religion in the Indonesian statehood. The peculiarities of religion in statehood are accommodated not only in the form of public services through the Ministry of Religion that was established since the beginning of independence, but also in the form of state ideology through the inclusion of “God Almighty” as one of the precepts in Pancasila. While Pancasila itself is a part of the constitution which is very difficult – if it is not impossible to – be changed, religion in Indonesian statehood is more than conserved, but it is always the main reference in making various political decisions governing public life.

However, it must be said that the domination of religion in the administration of the state can – and in fact has – brought serious problems in social life, both in countries that are relatively homogeneous and especially those that are very pluralistic like Indonesia.

The European society learned a very bitter but valuable lesson from theocratic practice, namely the system of administering the state based on divine authority, which in reality was actually based more on claims of divinity according to the conception of certain religious groups. While what is divine is different in meaning for each religious group and individual, the implementation of the state administration based on particular conceptions of a particular religion can only be realized through violence that involves religious groups in fighting over political power and the authority of public regulation based on the conception of the divinity of each group. Discrimination, persecution, criminalization, and various forms of humiliation of humanity over groups of different religions from the authorities are a direct result of theocracy practice.

Humanitarian crisis experience as a result of past theocracy has established European society on the choice of secularism, which draws a firm boundary line between religious life and state administration, thereby shifting the basis of state administration from the authority claimed (claimed) open) human.

Secularism does not mean a ban on diverse religious beliefs and expressions. On the contrary, along with liberalism, secularism provides a wider freedom for every citizen to believe and practice religion in his personal life, without giving any religion or whatever certain religious beliefs a privileged position in the administration of the state, whether as a moral source for law or as a form public service.

The right combination of secularism and liberalism has, in fact, succeeded in alleviating horizontal conflicts between various religious groups which in the previous theocracy system fought each other for political power and authority to regulate public life, which in turn created stability in political, economic and social life extensively. It is undeniable that secularism and liberalism have brought European society into one of the most advanced societies in the world today.

The choice of secularism is also consciously seen in the founding of the United States of America, where secularism is practiced within the framework of libertarian liberalism which posits religion as one of the many dimensions of personal life — including thought, identity expression, lifestyle choices, etc. — which cannot be interventioned by the state. It is not surprising that civil liberties, including in religious life, are guaranteed a very strong protection in the United States constitution.

Secularism or the separation of state administration from religion is within the same framework as the separation of state administration from all forms of personal preference. There is no form of personal preference that must be privileged, including religion. Secularism, in this framework, is a guarantee that every belief and expression of free religion in the private territory of its adherents, and such freedom is only possible to be realized by ensuring that no particular religion, including the religion adopted by the majority of the population, is involved in the law and policies that bind citizens in general.

However abundant the arguments that show the superiority of secularism and that the involvement of religion in public settings can actually bring serious problems in public life, building a wall separating the practice of state administration and religious worldview has never been easy in countries that most people view religion as a very important element in all aspects of life.

Moreover, unlike the positive image of secularism in Europe and the United States as a system that provides strong guarantees for religious freedom, in Indonesia and many countries with a predominantly Muslim population, secularism is often wrongly associated with the practice of colonialism in the past by the “West” or with the practice of dictatorships that severely restricts freedom, including religious freedom.

Another thing that must also be noted is that, referring to the findings of the Pew Research Center survey mentioned above, the view of religion as very important correlates with the level of economic inequality of people in a country. In other words, escapism on social and economic issues perceived by very many people is the reason why religion is a very important thing in people’s lives in any country, and therefore easily manipulated as a political issue that increasingly hampers efforts to separate state administration from the influence of religion.

This does not mean that the condition of religious and state relationship in Indonesia will forever be characterized by the strong influence of religious preferences in political decision making in the state administration. Learning from the experiences of the United States and the framework of secularism used by the country, secularism must be carried out within the framework of citizens’ freedom in their personal choices. This means that secularism is not a matter of a country that keeps people away from the religious teachings they believe in, but instead brings people closer to the religion they believe in, by giving adherents intimacy in believing and practicing any religion in their personal lives.

In this framework, the biggest challenge in the Indonesian context is how the ” God Almighty” principle in Pancasila should be understood since it becomes an integral element of the constitution. What should continue to be encouraged is the understanding of the first principle as a religious right for every citizen that must be guaranteed by the state, rather than as an obligation that must be carried out by every citizen, where the state gives sanctions if the obligation is not implemented or carried out in an inappropriate manner based on the interests of political power.

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