Jakarta (Reuters) – Activists in Indonesia on Thursday praised the government’s decision to ban public schools from mandating religious dress, a move that forced non-Muslim students to wear the hijab.
Indonesia officially considers six religions, about 90% of the population is Muslim, but in recent years there has been growing concern that more conservative interpretations of Islam are airing religious intolerance.
Non-Muslim female students were forced to wear the hijab shortly after news came about a school in West Sumatra province following the government’s signature on a decree on religious dress in the school dress code on Wednesday.
The issue gained national attention due to protests by the parents of a girl, whose news spread on social media.
Indonesia’s religious minister Yakut Cholil Koumas said that the case of West Sumatra was “the tip of the iceberg”.
“There is no reason to violate the freedom of others in the name of religious expression,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.
Education Minister Nadim Makarim said that the special autonomous province of Aceh, which enforces Sharia law, gets an exemption.
The commissioner of Indonesia’s main rights body, Commons HAM, Bika Ulung Hapsara, said the decree honors people’s choice to respect them.
“Places of education are a place for free souls to grow free from discrimination, where respect is promoted,” he said.
Andreas Harsnow, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that schools in more than 20 provinces still make religious dress mandatory in their dress codes, so the decree was a positive step.
“Many public schools require girls and female teachers to wear the hijab, which often leads to bullying, intimidation, social pressure, and in some cases, resignation.”
(Reporting by Stanley Vidiento; Editing)
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