Whether Australia is a secular society is determined by theinterpretation and use of the terms ‘secular’ and ‘secularism’.
Based on myunderstanding, I believe that Australia is a secular society. This will beexplained through Charles Taylor’s three different forms of secularism. Furtherreference to Australia’s government will be used to reinforce the notion thatAustralia is a secular society. Australia as a secular society is often debated but itstruth lies within the terminology used. What is interpreted by the termssecular and secularism determines whether Australia should be described as asecular country, as stated by philosopher Charles Taylor (2007: 18-21). Tayloracknowledged three types of secularism.
Firstly, secularism can mean thatreligion is an option for the public sphere. It is not removed and isaccessible to both the people and the state. Religion instead becomes asingular voice amongst many, including those with no religion (Taylor 2007: 18).Secondly, secularism can relate to the populations strong religious feeling orbelief. This form can occur even where the state still supports religion andinvolves a measurable deduction of religious feeling or belief (Taylor 2007: 18).Lastly, secularism could be the deletion of all religious feelings, beliefs andgods from the public sphere. However, religion is still eligible to bepractised and believed in by the private sphere. Therefore, the population canbe religious whereas the state is secular (Taylor 2007: 19).
In conclusion, a country may be highly collaborative withreligious feelings or beliefs and still be considered secular, so long as thecountry doesn’t endorse one religion to the exclusion of other points of view (Taylor2007: 21). Therefore, whether Australia is a secular society is determined bywhich form of Taylor’s secularism is appropriate. Regarding Australia’sgovernment, Taylor’s first form best fits Australia’s status as a secularisedsociety. This is because neither the second or third form illustrateAustralia’s government and its relationship with religion. This is exemplifiedin Section 116 of the Australian Constitution (Commonwealth of AustraliaConstitution Act: s 116): “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishingany religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting thefree exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as aqualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
” Therefore, Australia cannot create a state church,but Australia’s government works closely with religious groups. For example,the government collaborates with religious organisations to help fundeducational systems and acknowledges religious weddings (Henry & Kurzak2012: 1-3). The government’s involvement essentially rules out Taylor’s thirdform of secularism, as the state must be secular.
Although Australia is stillpredominantly religious, Australia is changing in religious affiliations. From1996 to 2006, the number of people identifying as non-religious grew by 25.7% (AustralianGovernment 2018: 1-2). This currently eliminates Taylor’s second form ofsecularism.
This leaves Taylor’s first form of secularism which indicates thatreligion is an option for the public sphere. Therefore, Australia is a secularcountry. This form of secularism allows for religion and beliefs to be allowed andshared in both the public and private spheres of Australia.