Faith in spotlight in 2016 Census

With the 2016 Census approaching, there is a push for Australians to mark ‘no religion’ in order to change the way Government policy is created and how projects are funded in Australia.

The push is being led by the Mark No Religion movement, which has received $12,000 in crowd-funding from around 140 backers who believe that if Christianity was no longer the ‘most popular religion’, there would be dramatic improvements in how the Government spends on welfare and education.

“Census data is used by governments to make important funding decisions like assigning chaplains to hospitals, schools, prisons and armed services, for planning educational facilities, for aged care and other social services,” said Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) president Kylie Sturgess. “Many of those services are run by religious-based organisations. Since the government relies on Census data to decide on funding and policy for these things, it’s important the Census data is correct. Accurate Census data matters.”

“We are a secular country, and we would like to see whether or not people are actually reflecting upon what we think is a secular country and saying yes, it truly is, and demonstrating it in Census data,” Ms Sturgess added.

In the 2011 Australian Census, 5.4 million Australians selected ‘Catholic’ as their religion, with 13.1 million saying they followed some form of Christianity and 4.7 million choosing humanism, atheism, agnosticism or rationalism under “other, please specify”. In the last Census, the ‘no religion’ option appeared under the ‘other, please specify’ box.

In response to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) call for submissions about 2016 Census content, this year the ‘no religion’ option will appear at the top of the list for the first time since the ‘no religion’ option was introduced in 1991. ‘Catholic’ will now be second on the list of options.

Of all the responses in the 2011 Census, only ‘Catholic’ (25 per cent) was higher than ‘no religion’ (22 per cent), with ‘Anglican’ coming in third at 17 per cent.

The number of Australians who selected ‘no religion’ in the last census was almost double the previous ballot. In the past 100 years, that number has risen from one in 250 people to one in five.


Opinion: Are we losing our religion?

Regardless of Census data, many Australians already view our country as a secular nation, so it should come as no surprise that the number of people choosing ‘no religion’ is on the rise.

Let’s face it. Catholicism, in particular, has lost its sheen. We don’t even need to go into the details on that one. There has already been a lot of press coverage of the reprehensible actions of many representatives of the Catholic Church. Islam has also been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and, although we don’t hear too much about it, Hinduism, which is Australia’s fastest growing religion, is another major player in the faith stakes. Apart from other forms of Christianity, the ‘big three’ are followed by Judaism, Buddhism and folk religions.

Having faith in a particular religion is an individual’s right, and no one should want to take that away from them. And whatever the results of the Census, it shouldn’t be seen as a competition. 

If the aim of the Census is to assist in the formulation of future Government policy, then the Mark No Religion movement has merit. After all, why should one religion receive preference over another when it comes to Government funding, especially if we observe the ‘church to be separate from the state’ mantra.

By marking ‘no religion’ on the Census, we may actually help to create policy that recognises an individual as ‘human’ and not as ‘Catholic’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Jew’.

I am a firm believer in ‘each to his own’. If you follow a particular faith and you feel strongly enough about it, all power to you. No one has the right to denounce another’s religious belief.

And as far as running the country goes, we are both a secular nation and a multicultural one consisting of many races and religions, but it stands to reason that religion should not influence how policy is created and funding is distributed.

Marking the ‘no religion’ box doesn’t make you an atheist. In this instance, it just means that you don’t wish to be labelled and that you are concerned about the way our country should be governed.

Personally, I feel that all religions have positive messages that should benefit humankind, however, it seems that many people only see the good in their own faith. A movement such as this could put the spotlight back on humanity rather than religion. And I think that’s something for which we should all strive.

The Census will be conducted on August 9. How will you mark your religion? How do you feel about the Mark No Religion movement? Do you think that religion has too much influence over the way our country is run, or, perhaps, too little?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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