The surge in people identifying as having no religion in the national census should lead to public resources being more equitably allocated between non-religious and religious Australians, says the Rationalist Society of Australia.
Following release of the census data this week, RSA president Meredith Doig told ABC radio that many Australians were fed up with funding being directed unfairly to religious groups, including some with extreme views.
The proportion of Australians identifying as having no religion has surged to 38.9 per cent, with Christianity falling to 43.9 per cent.
The RSA was among the pro-secular and non-religious groups behind the Census21 – Not Religious? campaign, which encouraged Australians to more honestly reflect their religious or non-religious status in the census last August.
Dr Doig said she was heartened that many Australians had heeded the campaign’s message and answered the religion question honestly.
“In the past, I think a lot of people, if they were born into a Catholic family, automatically ticked the Catholic box on the census. But what we were trying to say is: ‘Look, are you really Catholic? Are you active in the religion? Do you really believe the tenets of the Catholic faith?,” she told ABC radio.
She said the result for the religion question should guide government decision makers on where resources ought to be allocated.
“So, for example, we saw under the previous government that millions of dollars had been allocated to what were essentially Pentecostal and quite extreme religious groups in rehabilitation services. And investigations are now going on about those sorts of resource allocation.”
Dr Doig said the census result demonstrated that religious figures, whose voices are privileged in the media, actually have declining appeal in the wider community.
“We hear a lot of the extremist voices who are arguing against progressive reforms like access to safe and legal abortion, same-sex marriage and so on. We hear a lot of those voices. And people tend to think that they represent everybody who’s a religionist. And what the census shows is that it’s not,” she said.
“We know – the RSA knows because we commissioned the research – that most mainstream Christians are actually in favour of reforms like same-sex marriage and access to safe and legal abortions, and voluntary assisted dying.
“So why this is really important is that it gives an accurate reflection of what Australians actually think, not just the high-profile voices.”
In a statement following release of the census result, the Census21 campaign said the voices of non-religious Australians deserved representation in government institutions and in the media in proportion to their increasing number.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Photo by Scott Creswell on Flickr CC