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Australia is neither Christian nor atheist

  • 20 January 2014
The Greens have called for the dropping of the Lord's Prayer from the opening of each day's sitting of Federal Parliament. The party's acting leader Richard Di Natale says the use of the prayer is outmoded and does not reflect modern multi-faith Australian society.

Senator Di Natale is correct to remind us that Australia is not a Christian country. But we cannot infer from this that religious and spiritual dedication should be dropped from parliament altogether. That would be appropriate only if Australia had adopted atheism or secularism in some official capacity like the totalitarian states of the 20th century.

Rather the changes in the religious composition of Australian society since 1901 imply that parliament should adopt a mix of prayers and moments of reflection that reflect a multi-faith society. That would include various representative religious faiths — as occurs in the US Congress — as well as secular beliefs or values.

The comment from the Greens' acting leader was prompted by a suggestion from the Federal Government's curriculum reviewer Kevin Donnelly, who argued that Australia's schools are too secular. His point was that school curricula are out of line with the religious assumptions of the Federal and State Parliaments, and that it's the schools that need to be brought into line.

He said: 'When you look at Parliaments around Australia — they all begin with the Lord's prayer. If you look at our constitution, the preamble is about God.'

The Donnelly review was announced by federal education minister Christopher Pyne, who is worried that the curriculum is too left-leaning and — by implication — secular. Subsequently Donnelly said religion does not have enough of a presence in Australia's 'very secular curriculum'.

Significantly he is advocating the teaching of multiple 'religions', and not just Christianity. 'I'm not saying we should preach to everyone, but I would argue that the great religions of the world — whether it's Islam, whether it's Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism — they should be taught over the compulsory years of school.'

Donnelly's main challenge with respect to the teaching of religion in schools is to ensure that teachers are genuine in their attempts to promote understanding of the various faiths, and that they have no interest in proselytising. Unfortunately his initial statements leave the door open to proselytising in a manner reminiscent of the Howard Government's chaplaincy program, which was abused by particular religious interests because it did not include adequate safeguards to prevent