Religion In Australian Politics Essay

2479 words - 10 pages

The issue of politics and the role religion has to play in politics is an issue of much debate and difference of opinion. In Australia, it is widely assumed that there is a separation of church and state and that Australia is a secular nation. However, is this the case? Does Australia have a separation of church and state? If not, what role should religion play in the political discussions of the nation? What role has religion previously played in Australian politics? What role is religion currently playing in Australian politics? Given Australia’s demographics and the state of religion within Australian society, what role should religion be playing in Australian politics? Or should religion play no role whatsoever in Australian political discourse? In order to discover the role that religion should play in Australian politics, it is important to look at the role religion has played in Australian politics, and the role that it is legally able to play.
Separation of church and state in Australia is different to much of the western world. Whilst it is generally assumed that there is a clear separation of church and state in Australia, the reality is more complicated. According to Hogan (1981, p.216) all state constitutions, with the exception of Tasmania, make no mention of what the relationship should be between the church and the state. He says “States are constitutionally free to establish any religion, suppress any religious organisations” and “To deny many aspects of religious freedom” (Hogan 1981, p.217).
At the Commonwealth level, the Constitution provides no clarity when it comes to what role, if any, religion should play in the governance of the nation (Ash 2010, p.120). As if to make it difficult on purpose to decipher the role of religion outlined in the Constitution, the preamble makes a specific reference to an ‘Almighty God’, suggesting perhaps that religion in the organised and denominational sense may not have a role to play, but perhaps faith in the personal sense does (Parliament of Australia, n.d). Section 116 of the Constitution is where deciphering the role of religion gets particularly difficult. The section states that the government may not make laws “establishing any religion” and that it must not impose “any religious observance” (Parliament of Australia, n.d). Hogan notes that “it is important to realise that section 116 does not guarantee a separation of church and state” He suggests that instead of outlining what the relationship is between church and state, the constitution only outlines the state’s contribution, or lack thereof, to the relationship (Hogan 1981, p.222). Perhaps weakening any case for a clear separation between religion and the state is the High Court’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Establishment clause’ in section 116. The Court interprets the word ‘Establish’ to mean “A statutory recognition of a religion as a national institution” (Hogan 1981, p.223). The Constitution, whilst specific in terms of...

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