Letter to Courier-Mail

Si Gladman / 17 June 2024

This is a letter to the Editor of the Courier-Mail in response to that media outlet’s editorial about Anzac Day Dawn Services, Editor’s view: Anzac services at dawn are as relevant as ever. The letter was sent on 13 June 2024.

Dear Editor,

In your editorial on Anzac Day (Anzac services at dawn are as relevant as ever, 25 April 2024), the Courier-Mail vowed it would add its voice to “those millions who will today vow to never forget the sacrifices of all of those Australians who have served in our nation’s military”.

Yet, in arguing for the continued Christian dominance of Anzac Dawn Services on the basis of tradition, the Courier-Mail disregarded the contribution of the many non-religious and non-Christian service personnel who have fought and died for our country.

My organisation, the Rationalist Society of Australia, has been lobbying the Australian War Memorial (AWM), veterans affairs minister Matt Keogh, and RSLs across the country for reform of Dawn Services so that they are no longer dominated by one religious tradition.

Far from wanting the “irrational” spiritual aspects removed, as your editorial suggested, we believe Dawn Services should reflect the reality of our nation’s diverse, multi-faith and, increasingly, non-religious community.

We are concerned that the continued imposition of Christianity on our nation’s most important day of commemoration risks alienating many veterans and current serving Defence personnel.

Religion has never been a unifying force among military personnel. Historians have noted that many of our larrikin diggers did not particularly care for religion and that the Anzac ethos was “overwhelmingly irreligious”. Indeed, official data shows that the majority of currently serving personnel identify as not religious.

Your editorial argued that those elderly people remembering relatives who fought in World War II were “more likely to have been brought up in the Christian faith” and would find comfort in religious ritual. It even suggested that committed atheists would draw “an emotional response like little else” to the religious elements.

But what about all those Australians who don’t find any such comfort or draw any such emotional responses from Christian rituals? Why should they feel excluded from Anzac Day participation due to these religious barriers?

Moving away from Christian sermons, prayers and hymns – which dominate the AWM’s Dawn Service – would open the door to incorporating more meaningful and creative ways, such as through storytelling, poetry or music, and would allow all Australians to join in.

It would not necessarily mean removing all traces of religion. Melbourne’s well-attended Dawn Service offers a template to follow. It features the hymn Abide With Me, but, notably, no Christian chaplain, no recital of prayers, and no Christian dedication and benediction.

If the Courier-Mail truly wants to commemorate all of those Australians who have served in our nation’s military, we will welcome the addition of your voice to our call for secular reform of Anzac Day Dawn Services.

Si Gladman

Executive Director,

Rationalist Society of Australia

All the more reason.