Whether Australia is asecular society is determined by the understanding and use of the terms’secular’ and ‘secularism’. Based on my understanding, I believe that Australiais a secular society.
This will be explained through Charles Taylor’s threedifferent forms of secularism (2007: 18-19). Additional reference toAustralia’s government will be used to reinforce the notion that Australia is asecular society. Australia as a secularsociety is often debated but its truth lies within the terminology used.
Whatis interpreted by the terms secular and secularism determines whether Australiashould be described as a secular country, as stated by philosopher CharlesTaylor (2007: 18-21). Taylor acknowledged three types of secularism. Firstly,secularism can mean that religion is an option for the public sphere. It is notremoved and is accessible to both the people and the state. Religion insteadbecomes a singular voice amongst many, including those with no religion (Taylor2007: 18).
Secondly, secularism can relate to the populations strong religiousfeeling or belief. This form can occur even where the state still supportsreligion and involves a measurable deduction of religious feeling or belief (Taylor2007: 18). Lastly, secularism could be the deletion of all religious feelings,beliefs and gods from the public sphere.
However, religion is still eligible tobe practised and believed in by the private sphere. Therefore, the populationcan be religious whereas the state is secular (Taylor 2007: 19). In conclusion, a countrymay be highly collaborative with religious feelings or beliefs and still beconsidered secular, so long as the country doesn’t endorse one religion to theexclusion of other points of view (Taylor 2007: 21). Therefore, whetherAustralia is a secular society is dependent upon which of Taylor’s 3 form ofsecularism is appropriate.
Regarding Australia’s government, Taylor’s firstform best fits Australia’s status as a secularised society. This is becauseneither the second or third form illustrate Australia’s government and itsrelationship with religion. This is exemplified in Section 116 of theAustralian Constitution (Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act: s 116): “The Commonwealth shallnot make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religiousobservance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and noreligious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or publictrust under the Commonwealth.” Thus, the Australiangovernment cannot form a state church. However, Australia’s government worksclosely with religious groups. For example, the government works with religiousorganisations for fundraising and acknowledges religious weddings (Henry 2012: 1-3).
The government’s involvement essentially rules out Taylor’sthird form of secularism, as the state must be secular. Although Australia isstill predominantly religious, Australia is changing in religious affiliations.From 1996 to 2006, the number of people identifying as non-religious grew by25.7% (Australian Government 2018: 1-2). This currently eliminates Taylor’ssecond form of secularism. This leaves Taylor’s first form of secularism whichindicates that religion is an option for the public sphere (2007: 18).
Therefore,Australia is a secular country. This form of secularism allows for religion andbeliefs to be allowed and shared in both the public and private spheres ofAustralia.