Religion in Australia

Religion in Australia is diverse with Christianity being the most widely professed faith. Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia of 1901 prohibits the Commonwealth government from establishing a church or interfering with the freedom of religion.[note 1] In an optional question on the 2016 Census, 52.2% of the Australian population declared some variety of Christianity, around 9% less than just five years prior. Historically the percentage was far higher; now, the religious landscape of Australia is changing and diversifying.[1] According to the 2016 estimate, religious distribution is as follows: Protestant 23.1% (Anglican 13.3%, Uniting Church 3.7%, Presbyterian and Reformed 2.3%, Baptist 1.5%, Pentecostal 1.1%, Lutheran .7%, other Protestant .5%), Roman Catholic 22.6%, other Christian 4.2%, Muslim 2.6%, Buddhist 2.4%, Orthodox 2.3% (Eastern Orthodox 2.1%, Oriental Orthodox .2%), Hindu 1.9%, other 1.3%, none 30.1%, unspecified 9.6%.[3] In 2016, 30.1% of Australians stated "no religion" and a further 9.6% chose not to answer the question.[1] Other faiths include Sikhs (0.5%) and Jews (0.4%).[1]

Religion in Australia as declared in the census (2016)[1][2]

  No religion (30.1%)
  Protestantism (23.1%)
  Catholicism (22.6%)
  Other Christian (4.2%)
  Islam (2.6%)
  Buddhism (2.4%)
  Hinduism (1.9%)
  Other religions (1.7%)
  Not stated or unclear (9.1%)
St Patricks Catholic Cathedral in Melbourne, Victoria

Australia's Aboriginal people developed the animist spirituality of the Dreaming and some of the earliest evidence on earth for religious practices among humans has been found in the archaeological record of their ancestors. Torres Strait Islander religion bore similarities to broader Melanesian spirituality. The general isolation of indigenous Australian religion ended with the arrival of the first British settlers in 1788, whereafter subsequent immigrants and their descendants have been predominantly Christian.

While the Church of England originally held a position of privilege in early colonial Australia, a legal framework guaranteeing religious equality evolved within a few decades.[4] Large numbers of Irish Catholics were transported to Australia through the British criminal justice system.[5] British Nonconformist Methodist, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists set up their own churches in the 19th century, as did Lutherans from Germany.[6][7]

Smaller groups also arrived and established their churches. Jews started arriving in the early 19th century. The Australian gold rushes brought in workers from China and the Pacific islands, as well as specialised workers from British India, such as the mainly Muslim "Afghan Cameleers".

While Australia has a strong tradition of secular government, religious organisations have played a significant role in public life. The Protestant and Catholic churches played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services.[8][9]

Today, around a quarter of Christians attend church weekly; around a quarter of all school students attend church-affiliated schools.[10] The Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas are public holidays.[11]

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