According to a rather breathless ALL CAPS message that is circulating via social media and email, non-Muslim Australians should not leave the ‘Religion’ section blank on the upcoming 2016 census because this will lead to more mosques being built in Australia. The message claims that one million Muslims will ‘tick their box’ while ten million other Australians will leave it blank and then wonder why a mosque is built in their neighbourhood.
However, the claims in the message are utter nonsense. The implication in the message is that the Australian government will suddenly start building mosques based solely on how many people identify as Muslims. This claim is just plain silly. If a lot more people than expected listed ‘Christian’ as their religion in the census, the government would not embark on a church building spree. The government does not build religious institutions.
Obviously, whether or not a religious institution of any kind is built in a community depends on the religious and cultural needs and desires of sectors of that particular community’s population. The Australian constitution ensures that the ‘Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth’ (Section 116).
Moreover, the statistics used in the message are not accurate and appear to have been simply made up. According to the 2011 census, 476,291 Australians identified as following Islam, so it is difficult to see how ‘1,000,000 Muslims will tick their box’. And, only 8.6 per cent of those who completed the census chose not to answer the optional religious affiliation question, a figure that is clearly not even remotely close to almost half of the population as suggested in the message. Out of the 21,507,717 Australians counted during the 2011 census, 22.3% reported as having ‘no religion’.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics data for the 2011 census notes:
The most common non-Christian religions in 2011 were Buddhism (accounting for 2.5 per cent of the population), Islam (2.2 per cent) and Hinduism (1.3 per cent). Of these, Hinduism had experienced the fastest growth since 2006, increasing from 148,130 to 275,534, followed by Islam from 340,394 to 476,291 and Buddhism from 418,749 to 528,977.
Thus, if the implications in the message were true, one would think that it would be government backed Buddhist and Hindu temples springing up in our neighbourhoods rather than mosques.
While the number of Australians identifying as Muslim has no doubt increased in the five years since the last census, it is unlikely to have more than doubled as suggested by the figure quoted in the message.
And, in any case, the very same message with the very same erroneous statistics circulated prior to the last Australian census in August 2011. Another equally nonsensical 2011 variant of the same message left out the claims about more mosques being built, but suggested that leaving the ‘religion’ question blank would result in Christmas carols and Easter celebrations being banned in Australian schools.
Another issue with this message is that it implies that at least some of us should deliberately misrepresent our true religious beliefs (or lack thereof) by choosing ‘Christian’ or our ‘upbringing faith’. At its core, the premise of the message is that one sector of the Australian community should deliberately and wilfully try to skew statistical data collected by the government in an attempt to prevent another sector from constructing places of worship in accordance with their constitutional right to religious freedom.
The census is an important document and its worth relies on the collection of accurate and truthful information. So, it would seem unethical and dishonest for a person who was brought up as a Christian but no longer holds those beliefs to tick ‘Christian’ on the census in a lame and ill-conceived attempt to prevent the building of mosques.
Sharing the fear mongering and bigoted nonsense outlined in this message serves no good purpose.
AUSTRALIA WILL BE HOLDING A CENSUS IN AUGUST, 2016
PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE THE “RELIGION” SECTION BLANK, PLEASE.
BE SURE TO AT LEAST TICK “CHRISTIAN” (OR YOUR UPBRINGING FAITH).
1,000,000 MUSLIMS WILL TICK THEIR BOX.
10,000,000 AUSTRALIANS WILL LEAVE IT BLANK – THEN WONDER WHY A MOSQUE IS BUILT IN THEIR NEIGHBOURHOOD!!!
Last updated: February 12, 2016
First published: February 12, 2016
By Brett M. Christensen
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Separation of church and state in Australia
I’ve heard If I don’t say I’m Christian, it will mean mosques get built in my neighbourhood!?