6 January 2013
The decision by ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher to decline an invitation to attend a church service to mark the beginning of the ACT Assembly’s year is an important gesture for equality in Australia’s increasingly diverse society, according to Dr Meredith Doig, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia. She says it is crucial to maintain equality in Australian society by strongly protecting the secular state.
“Australia has large numbers of people who are automatically excluded when a head of state attends a church service in a formal capacity,” she says. “These include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. And then there are people who do not want religion involved in matters of state: atheists, humanists and many other ordinary Australians. Political symbols are important and Ms Gallagher’s decision not to attend the service exhibits a sound understanding of the complexity of Australian society as it is evolving in the twenty first century.”
Doig says that unlike America and France, Australia does not enjoy the benefit of strict legal separation of church and state. Yet Australians are traditionally wary of mixing religion and politics. “They have had good reason to be skeptical,” says Doig. “Sectarian animosity between Protestants and Catholics may be a thing of the past but it did great damage at its height, leading to the breakup of a major political party and continuing government funding of a system of education devoted to one particular form of religion. That kind of animosity is an indication of what can happen in our much more culturally complex society. It is why the state needs to be kept secular.”
Doig says Prime Minister Gillard’s expanded funding of religious chaplains in schools likewise undermines a genuinely secular state. “Gillard is an avowed atheist but she has done this to appease the religious lobby. Of particular concern to those of us in Victoria, NSW and Queensland is the increasing activism of evangelicals in pushing state governments to open the doors of government schools to their form of “special religious instruction” (SRI). SRI is an insidious practice that divides classes, schools and communities along religious lines at a time when we should be institutionalising practices that encourage social cohesion, not social division.”
For more information, contact
Dr Meredith Doig
m: 0403 246 544