Letter: Constitution and atheism
The Constitution’s preamble states that Indonesia is based on “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa”, meaning “Supremacy of the Supreme Being”. That sounds tautologous, but it is a more accurate translation than “Belief in God” since neither “kepercayaan” (belief) nor “pengakuan” (recognition) is mentioned.
Anyway, the idea that every citizen must assent to every statement in a nation’s founding documents is absurd. No one could then point out weaknesses in the Constitution so they would be stuck with it forever!
Fortunately, people in most countries have realized that constitutions are flawed products of history which eventually need completely rewriting or, as in the US and Indonesia, periodically amending.
As an example, the affirmation in the US Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” is plainly untrue. Tiger Woods was born with more golfing potential than the rest of us. It would be foolish to deny this just to avoid contradicting the declaration of independence, and sheer cruelty to jail a person for acknowledging Woods’s innate talent.
But, as it happens, the Indonesian Constitution forbids such cruelty in Article 28E paragraph 2, which grants every person the right to freely maintain her beliefs and to express her thoughts and attitudes according to her conscience. In addition, clause 28E paragraph 3 guarantees the freedom of every person to express an opinion, and clause 28F accords every person the right to pass on information through any available media.
So if the present case were to reach the Supreme Court, it would be constitutionally obliged to overturn the verdict against Alexander Aan, who was jailed for declaring himself an atheist.
Moreover, the Constitutional Court should strike down the law allowing only six religions since it contradicts article 28E paragraph 1, which guarantees every person the right to embrace the religion of his/her choice.
Of course in reality no such thing will happen because judges feel no obligation to uphold constitutional rights. They prefer transactional politics and legal horse-trading, just like ministers and politicians. But that does not mean that the Constitution can legitimately be interpreted as supporting religious oppression. It only means it is open to abuse.