26 August 2015
ABS moves to redress perception of religious bias
"Australia's status as a secular country has moved a step closer with the 2016 Census question on 'Religious Affiliation' being substantially changed -- to reflect more accurately those citizens who have No Religion." The comment has been made by Dr Meredith Doig, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia.
"Despite decades of asking a loaded Census question, and treating the non-religious as an afterthought, there has been a steady rise of those who do not subscribe to any religious faith," said Dr Doig.
The 2011 Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed that 61.1% of Australians had some level of affiliation with one of the many Christian denominations on offer, while 22.3 % recorded 'No Religion'. Only 2.2% of the population registered as belonging to the Islamic faith.
But Dr Doig points out that for decades the figures have been badly skewed due to an inappropriate phrasing of the question -- "What is the person's religion?" -- which wrongly assumed everyone has a religious faith. Of greater concern, she said, was placing the 'No Religion' option in an obscure position at the bottom of the page -- seemingly as an afterthought.
"It is fully expected that the 2016 Census will show a significant shift -- similar to the New Zealand Census in 2013, which showed the Christian figure falling to just 47% and the 'No Religion' percentage at 41.9%."
"The ABS is to be congratulated for responding to more than 400 public submissions on the issue. And while the question's wording has unfortunately remained unchanged, moving the 'No Religion' option to the top of the form will unquestionably reflect a figure far greater than 22.3%, in 2016."
"This level of accuracy is essential for the Census," Dr Doig said. "We trust the ABS move to redress this long-standing bias will not be rescinded by the Abbott government, in an effort to maintain the status quo."
"Many government services and resources depend on Census accuracy, and the figures are used by religious organisations to maintain their status and influence in terms of grants, tax-free services, access to schools for religious instruction, and for their generally privileged position within the community."
About the Rationalist Society of Australia Inc.
The RSA is the oldest freethought group in Australia, promoting reason since 1906. Members and supporters hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world. We seek to stimulate freedom of thought, support a secular and ethical system of education, promote the fullest possible use of science for human welfare, and encourage interest in science, criticism and philosophy as connected factors in a progressive human culture.
Dr Meredith Doig, President
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