Indonesians who do not identify with state-sanctioned religions may soon be permitted to leave the religion column on electronic identity cards blank under new government proposals that acknowledge religious minorities while grouping them with unbelievers. 

The Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but only six faiths — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism — are officially recognized. Existing law requires followers of minority religions, such as adherents to the Baha'i faith and the 200,000 followers of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, as well as atheists, agnostics and animists, to hold a card identifying them as a follower of one of these six religions.

The government will discuss the new proposals with the Ministry of Religious Affairs before a public consultation, but sees them as a solution for people who feel marginalized due to their belief in an unrecognized religion.

“Believers in local religions won’t have to fill out the religion column on their identity cards if they don’t want to. Just leave it empty,” said Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi Feb. 20 at the opening of a meeting to discuss the identity cards.

But Indonesian Defense University lecturer Yohames Sulamin says such people will still be treated with contempt.

“Adherents of minority religions [are] lumped together with those whose belief in God is suspended and those for whom God simply does not exist,” he wrote in the Jakarta Globe. “Even if minorities are allowed to leave the religion column on their ID cards blank, they still might become the victims of discrimination — their beliefs still won’t be considered a religion by the state.”

All citizens must use the new identity cards starting in January 2013.