Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Building a Wall between Religion and State

Recently, there has been an increasing trend in news reporting about religious issues. The early 2017 was marred by Trump’s presidential edict, in which it restricts immigration to the U.S. from several Middle Eastern countries such as Libya and Iran. Similar situation happens in the Republic of Indonesia. The gubernatorial election in Special Capital Region of Jakarta has become a hot topic for Indonesians everywhere. Unfortunately, engaging participation from both sides – those who support the incumbent and those who wants to replace him – often employs religious rhetoric instead of merit-based arguments. I found such events as divisive and unproductive, unfit for any course of nation-building within this globalized society. Thomas Jefferson once argued in his Danbury Baptist letter using the phrase, “A wall of separation between church and state.” I concurs with Jefferson’s stance that religion should be separated from the state.
The state has a fundamental obligation to serve all its subject’s interest. The state actors must put public interests above all else – including religion. Public interest does not always go hand-in-hand with religious values. For example, a Delhi High Court’s ruling on a plan to build a Jain temple on forest land at Chatra, Jharkand explicitly stated that the interest of religion “cannot be allowed to supersede the interests of the public at large.” (Press Trust of India, 2014). This shows that religious interests often conflict with public needs.
The state should not intervene in religious matters. State intervention in its subjects’ spiritual activities are harmful and unwanted. State actors should guarantee the freedom to practice religions. As a matter of fact, one study by Legatum Prosperity Index shows that the ten top of the most tolerant countries in the world are actually secular states (Meltzer, 2016). The study illustrates how religious countries – specifically those who applied religious laws – are in fact repress religious freedom because the state has too much power to dictate people how they should practice their faith.
The third reason of why religion should be separated from is that the state should not prefer one religion over another. A preferential treatment by the state to one religion over another might provoke religious conflicts. As an instance, it is an irony that there is a recent event in Singkil, Aceh – a province that applied Sharia law – in which a church is burned down by intolerant mobs (Firdaus, 2015). The burning of a church in Aceh shows that an implementation of religious law does not ensure increased tolerance.
Some proponents argue that religion should have a say in politics because they think of religion as a primary guide which governs every aspect of life – this includes politics as the governing force in human’s contemporary society. They want to use religion as the basis for legislation, much like the Declaration of Independence in the U.S. or the 1945 Constitution in Indonesia. For instance, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a prominent Islamic organization in Indonesia, declared that Islam should control politics (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, 2016). They further claimed that Indonesia should use the Holy Quran as the sole source of law.
Such claim is an oversimplification of a well-established faith like Islam. Interpreting religious text – including the Holy Quran – Is a difficult task to do. There are many complex procedures to accomplish in order to produce an accurate interpretation of religious texts. In Indonesia, there is an ongoing debate on whether hijab is compulsory that started since more than a decade ago. This polemic involves several leading Islamic clerics from a very wide spectrum such as Habib Rizieq and Quraish Shihab (Karyadi, 2015).  This demonstrates how religious text can be unsuitable to be used as the legal basis for the state because the varying interpretations is a paradox to the need for law to be just, fair, and therefore, clear.
Exploring all those arguments are important because they are not often get talked about on mainstream medias. They tend to follow the current trends, instead of presenting alternative narratives such as those points before. This is crucial because people need to know both sides of the opposing faction before they can decide themselves. In my case, hopefully the readers can finally see the benefit of separating religion from the state. By drawing a clear line between religion and state, religious issues such as the controversy over Jakarta’s gubernatorial election might be easily avoided.

Firdaus, F. (2015, October 14). Kesaksian Pendeta Aceh Singkil: 60 menit terjebak di gereja. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from
Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia. (2016, September 21). Islam Mengatur Politik. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from
Karyadi, F. (2015, July 24). Quraish Shihab dan Islam Nusantara. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from
Meltzer, H. (2016, December 29). Mapped: The world's most (and least) free and tolerant countries. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from
Meltzer, H. (2016, December 29). Mapped: The world's most (and least) free and tolerant countries. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from

Press Trust of India. (2014, July 30). Religion not above public interest. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from