The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ decision to place the option of “no religion” above the list of different religions in the upcoming census has ruffled feathers in some Christian communities, with people concerned that an increase in people identifying as “no religion” will adversely affect their religions. The ABS made the decision to change the order of options on the question to try to capture a more accurate record of people who do not hold a faith in Australia, believing that when “no religion” was the last option on the census, many who were no longer actively involved in a religious organisation listed the faith they were brought up in. In an opinion piece in Catholic Weekly on Friday, Monica Doumit criticised the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s campaign for more people to check the “no religion” box, and while the piece focuses on what constitutes Christianity, it does make the case for people to tick the “Catholic” box:
“Encouraging people to answer ‘Catholic’ on this census is not about winning a numbers game against the atheists (as sweet as that victory would be!) It is about reminding people who would be tempted to think that their lives are such that they could never be part of the Christian family that there is nothing which can separate them from the love of God.”
It’s not just the Catholics. Christian website Salt Shakers has written about an email that is being forwarded that includes the following information:
“Bear in mind that although many Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion. Even though you may now have no religion, please consider entering the religion you were christened or born into, when answering this question. Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared to be a Muslim country — because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect this. Just imagine the repercussions if that were to happen. For Australia’s future please pass this message on to your family members and friends.”
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While Salt Shakers quotes the email, it doesn’t seem to endorse its contents. Salt Shakers encourages readers to talk about Muslims who feel afraid to declare their religion on the census. At the last census, 22% of Australians identified as having no religion, the largest number in the population except for Catholics, who were 25% of the population.