Australian Federal Constitution
- "In the process of drafting the Constitution churches argued for recognition of God and that all law ultimately derives from God, but these were rejected. A restrained reference to “Almighty God” was included in the preamble but not in the Constitution itself. "
The only section of the Australian Federal Constitution that mentions religion is section 116 which states:
- "The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth."
Religious defamation laws
In 2001, the state of Victoria passed the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, which is intended to prevent religious defamation. Section 8 (1) states:
- "A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of persons, engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons."
Australia is a Christian country
- "Australia is also a Christian country. At the time of Federation in 1901, 96 per cent of Australians described themselves as Christians, and while the figure is now about 62 per cent, the reality is that Australians still turn to the Church in moments of sorrow and loss. "
Until colonial times, Australia originally had a majority belief in Australian Aboriginal mythology.
- "Australia is not and never has been a Christian country. When the modern Australian state formally came into being in 1901 the Constitution was at pains to make clear we were a secular democracy. [...] Nor does the fact that the majority of Australians profess nominal allegiance to a Christian denomination make us a Christian country. It makes us a secular democracy where the majority have a nominal affiliation to a particular religion. "
Separation of Church and State
Though the not quite as severe as the religious right in America, Australia isn't without its own dominionist issues. Australia has a constitutional separation of church and state similar to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Despite this, several issues involving the nature of constitution monarchies as well as supreme court precedents continue to hold Australian separation of church and state issues under contention.
It remains unclear whether constitutional monarchies of the English Commonwealth are capable of having true separation of church and state, whilst the Queen being the titular head of government also remains the head of the Church of England.
Supreme Court Precedent
The issues of Church State separation reached the Australian supreme court in 1981 after efforts from prime ministers Sir Robert Menzies in the 1950s and Gough Whitlam in the 1970s to bring up the issue of subsidised funding for non-public schools. In particular Poorer Catholic schools.
In 1981 the supreme court ruled in favour of government funding of private schools. Supreme Court Justice Sir Ronald Wilson citing that
- "The fact is that s.116 is a denial of legislative power to the Commonwealth and no more … The provision therefore cannot answer the description of a law which guarantees within Australia the separation of church and state."
Since the supreme court ruling the Australian government has claimed to subsidise private schools based on a per student allotment of money. Despite their being religiously founded as well as being private commercial entities (some charging up to $20,000 per student per year in private school fees), this trend has led to private schools actually gaining more public funding than public schools, which remains a major point of contention in Australian culture.
Over the last several years since the supreme court rulings, a number of explicitly religious political parties have sprung up in Australia. Whilst not being able to gain any kind of majority seating in the federal or state parliaments, they have started gaining footholds in some local councils.
In addition to the issues of s.116's legal scope, a loophole has also been argued that an independent or party should be able to run on the grounds of Christian morals and agenda without the government necessarily endorsing the religion.
Though the 1999 referendum to secede from the British Commonwealth as a republic failed, there has been some talk of a second republic referendum since the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2007. It is uncertain what effect seceding as a republic would mean to the scope of constitutional church state separation, or the supreme court rulings based on the current scope, but at this point it would seem that the government is far too entrenched for it to make a clean break over a single referendum.