The office of Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel minister Matt Keogh says military commemorations such as Anzac Day services “remain welcoming to all”, despite mounting criticism that ceremonial activities are too religious and, specifically, too Christian.
In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia, chief of staff Nicola Gordon-Smith said the inclusion of religious and non-religious content military ceremonies recognised the diversity of Defence Force personnel and the wider community.
Mid last year, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig raised concerns with Mr Keogh about the Christian-centric nature of Defence rites and traditions, and called for the government to review the content in military ceremonies to ensure they better reflect modern society.
In recent years, a number of non-religious and pro-secular commentators have spoken out about the religious nature of Anzac Day services, with the likes of researcher Chrys Stevenson and former Army Colonel Phillip Hoglin calling for secular change.
Religious rituals once again dominated today’s Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, with the proceedings including a hymn, a dedication with reference to God, prayers of commemoration, the Lord’s Prayer and benediction – mostly presided over by a Christian Defence chaplain.
Dr Doig told Mr Keogh that all Australians – 40 per cent of who identify as not religious and many who identify with non-Christian religions – should feel welcomed, acknowledged and included in military ceremonies.
In a response – received in December – Ms Gordon-Smith did not indicate whether there would be a review of the current practices.
“Most military ceremonies are predominantly secular in content, with the inclusion of small portions of religious and cultural content dependent on the context, audience or supporting personnel,” she said.
“Inclusion of religious and cultural content is at the discretion of the organisating staff in consideration of the content of individual events and normally includes an introduction situating the content and inviting respect and inclusivity, acknowledging the diversity of the audience.
“Continued inclusion of both non-religious and religious content, with respectful dialogue, ensures that such ceremonies remain welcoming to all, recognising the diversity of the ADF’s pluralistic workforce, and the diversity of the Australian community.”
The RSA is campaigning for broad secular reform in the Australian Defence Force to reflect the changed demographics in Australian society and within the Navy, Army and Air Force, where more than 60 per cent of personnel now identify as not religious.
Photo by Hannah on Flickr (CC)