take religion OUT of politics

Census 2016, why mark No Religion?

The Census results are used for funding and decision making purposes.
Ensure you are represented, mark No religion.

The coming census in Australia is an important chance to make sure your interests are met in decision making and funding, and that views you don't hold are not over-represented in the coming years. As the next Australian Census approaches (9 August 2016), the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is preparing for one of its biggest and most important projects. The AFA is campaigning to encourage individuals and families to think about the importance and impact of their answer to this leading Census question: "What is the person's religion?"

It is time the Australian community questioned whether they hold religious beliefs or not. How they answer this question in the Census will influence decisions by Australian governments. Often the transfer of taxpayer money to religious organisations is justified on the basis of the Census results, as are special concessions and exemptions including the right to discriminate against some groups. The figures for Christian respondents in the New Zealand Census this year are expected to fall below the 50 percent mark, and good on them, but it should be us. It will be a first for any western democracy and is an indication of the steep upward trend in Atheism and Agnosticism of the last decade.

Click on a question for the answer

What happens if I write Jedi Knight/Pastafarian?

It gets counted as 'Not Defined' and is not placed in the 'No religion' category. This takes away from the 'No religion' numbers and therefore advantages the religion count. While some may think it's funny, it is a serious mistake to do so.

What happens if I write atheism or humanism?

According to the ABS Census Dictionary, 2011 agnosticism, atheism, humanism and rationalism are recorded as sub-categories of 'No religion'.

I've heard if I don't say I'm Christian, it will mean mosques get built in my neighbourhood!?

Did you hear something like the following?


This is a fear campaign using false information.

The 2011 census indicated that 476,291 people said that their religion was Islam - about 2.2% of the entire population, and nearly one third of those are children.

10 Million, roughly half of all Australians, don't leave the religion question blank.

Writing down Christian won't stop mosques from being built in your neighbourhood, any more than it will suddenly lead to new churches erupting from the ground if you write Christian. It does not matter whether the god someone claims is Allah or Jesus, whether the building on the corner is a mosque or church, or football club. We have secular laws that should represent all Australians regardless of their belief or disbelief as defined by Section 116 of the Constitution*. The government has never built temples, churches, or mosques. We live in a free secular society which tolerates personal faiths. But most importantly, if people are truly terrified of religions taking over the country, they should support any efforts to keep church and state separate.

By marking the census correctly you are better represented in decision making and funding decisions. Hence, the promotion of those without faith to actually mark no religion on the census is a call for us to be properly represented, this does not affect the figures of the religious at ALL. It better represents that at least 1 in 5 Australians are not religious and that figure is growing, has been under represented in past census, and that a secular society better reflects what is fair for all Australians so that we can all live together regardless of faith or lack of it.

* Section 116 says: 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.

What is the Census?

Every 5 years the Australian Government conducts a nationwide survey (a census) of everyone in the country at the time, except foreign diplomats and their families.

Who uses Census Information?

The Census gathers vital information on a wide range of topics which state and federal governments, business, and individuals use to inform policy, funding, and other decisions.

For example, basic services such as housing, social security, transport, education, industry, shops and hospitals use Census information. Also, State funding (including GST revenue) is based on census figures, as are the number of seats each state and territory has in the House of Representatives.

When is the next Census?

The next Australian Census will be on the 9th August 2016.

Is the Census compulsory?

Ultimately, yes.

The Census and Statistics Act provides for the compulsory completion of the form. If an individual doesn't answer the questions on the Census form, the Australian Statistician has the authority to direct them to do so. There are penalties for people failing to complete the Census or returning the form when directed to do so.

Is the information confidential?

The Census collects information on each person and household in the country to provide information about the community as a whole. Any personal information provided remains confidential to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). No information can be released that would enable users of Census data to identify any particular individual or household.

Does the Census ask for my religious beliefs?


Question 19 asks "What is the person's religion" and applies to each individual in the household at the time of the Census.

Do I have to answer which religion I adhere to?


Answering which religion you belong to is an optional question, however we believe supplying the government with full and accurate information ensures policy and funding decision are based on the accurate information about Australian residents.

What are the possible answers?

Responses to the religion question are coded to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups. In the classification, religions are grouped based on similarities in religious beliefs and practices, and the cultural heritage of adherents.

The number of adherents of a particular religious group is a significant factor in developing the classification structure. Thus, Christian denominations are extensively identified.

What is the data on religion used for?

Data on religious affiliation are used for such purposes as planning educational facilities, aged care and other social services provided by religion-based organisations; the location of church buildings; the assigning of chaplains to hospitals, prisons, armed services and universities; the allocation of time on public radio and other media; and sociological research.

What kind of issues might this lead to?

Exaggerations and inaccuracies in the Census data may lead to groups wielding unrepresentative influence within government. By means of these inflated figures politicians may formulate or disallow laws and policies based on religious precepts.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes all government laws and policies should benefit all members of society, not just those who adhere to a particular religious faith - even when that religion holds a majority position. As such, all government decisions should be based on empirical evidence rather than religious beliefs.

Can you give a more concrete example?

Due to the wording in the preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth in 1601, all religions and religious works are classed charities. We are following ideas formed in medieval times when everyone was a Christian, rather than modern, secular, and inclusive principles.

It is estimated that some $30 billion annually remains untaxed due to exemptions enjoyed by religious organisations. While many religious groups perform helpful and much needed charity work, a lack of transparency and accountability makes it impossible to determine exactly how much is spent in these areas verses church buildings, wages, allowances, schools, and businesses.

How did people respond in the 2011 Census?

The 2011 Census showed that more Australians than ever are identifying as having no religious affiliation.

Christianity remained the most commonly reported religion in Australia with 61.1 per cent of the population reporting affiliation with a Christian religion - a decline from 63.9 per cent in 2006.

There was an increase in the number of people not reporting a Christian faith from 36.1 per cent of the population in 2006 to 38.9 per cent in 2011.

The number of people reporting 'No religion' increased significantly, from 18.7 per cent of the populationia in 2006 to 22.3 per cent in 2011. As a single response to the question on religion, only Catholic was higher at 25% of the population, with Anglican third highest at 17%. 'No religion' was the response that showed the largest growth in number, from 3,706,553 persons in 2006 to 4,796,787 people in 2011 - an increase of 29.4 percent.

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.

The article LOSING MY RELIGION on the ABS website gives a great deal of detail on the decline in religious affiliation in Australia.

What causes inaccuracy in the Census figures?

First and foremost, the question on the Census form is what is known as a 'leading question'. That is, it is formulated is such a way as to elicit a desired answer. A survey company using such a method would very quickly be dismissed as not worth hiring.

The question reads, "What is the person's religion?"

Firstly, the phrasing of the question suggests the person has a religious belief. The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes this is a false assumption.

Second, the response options presented allows the person to write their religion of baptism, or the religion they were introduced to as a child, even though the individual may not hold any religious beliefs anymore.

The ABS said that during its review of the 2016 census, many submissions recommended changes to the religious affiliation question due to perceived bias in the question format.

After user consultation and testing, the ABS has decided to move the .No religion. response category to be the first response category in the question, rather than the last,so it will be more consistent with other questions and the order of their response categories.

Does attending church make me Christian?

Not necessarily.

According to research, there are many people who attend church and other religious activities for the social aspects of such gathering, and do not actually accept the tenets of the faith. Daniel Dennett is currently conducting an interesting study of ministers and pastors who have lost their faith, yet continue preaching because they do not know what else to do.

Conversely, there may be people who accept the tenets of a faith without ever attending a religious service.

Again, the Atheist Foundation of Australia believes the question should be answered as accurately as possible to truly reflect the belief of Australians.

I was baptised, does that make me a Christian?


The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes only those who accept the basic tenets of the faith should consider themselves Christian. These are outlined by the Nicene Creed.

What if I identify with "Christian Values"?

Values such as "love thy neighbour", "do not commit murder", and "thou shall not steal" are shared by many religions, cultures, and societies throughout history. As such, many values labelled "Christian" are shared by people of all faiths, and those who have no faith at all.

It is no surprise that every culture discovered treating people as they wish to be treated led to civilised and pleasant living conditions.

Believing Jesus rose from the dead or was born of a virgin does not give the faithful a monopoly on morality. One can be perfectly moral without a supernatural spy camera watching.

How should I answer for children?

"No Religion"

Generally an adult fills in the questionnaire and may mark young and adolescent children as having a religious belief without their input. The largest percentage of people who hold no religious view are in the adolescence to young adulthood range, which may be as high as 50%.

Many children have not decided which set of religious beliefs they will accept as true, or thought through the ramifications of those beliefs. We therefore believe it is unfair and inaccurate to label these children as belonging to a religion. However, if you are certain the child in question truly believes the tenets of a religion, please select the appropriate option.

The skewing effect of including children.

Richard Dawkins and other prominent authors have pointed out that no one should consider children Muslims, Hindus, Christians. Children often parrot the beliefs of their parent, teachers and culture without fully understanding the complex concepts involved.

In Australia the number of children under 14 years of age is approximately 4 million. That is about 20% of the population who should be marked as having 'No religion'.

What makes someone Christian?

There is a wide variety of Christian faiths and denominations, and the particular beliefs of one group are not necessarily shared by another. This can make it difficult to actually determine what makes someone a Christian. However, almost all Christian faiths and denominations share the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed.

What is the Nicene Creed?

In 325 AD the first ecumenical council met in the city of Nicaea in an attempt to settle the differences between the competing Christian faiths and arrive at an agreed consensus. The final agreement included the Nicene Creed and other details, such as when to celebrate Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox).

The creed is now adopted by Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodox liturgies among others.

What does Nicene Creed say?

In brief, the Nicene Creed says:

  • We believe in one God.
  • We believe God made everything.
  • We believe a virgin gave birth.
  • We believe Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.
  • We believe Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days.
  • We believe Jesus ascended into Heaven where he sits at the right hand of God.
  • We believe Jesus will physically return to judge the living and the dead.
  • We believe in one Church.
  • We believe in baptism.
  • We believe in the forgiveness of "sins"
  • We believe in the resurrection of the dead.
  • We believe in everlasting judgement and everlasting life.

What does the Nicene Creed actually say?

There are numerous versions of the Nicene Creed as it has been revised a number of times since the original in 325AD. The following will be used in all RC Churches as of November 2011

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Do Christians really believe that stuff?

Yes, I am afraid they do.

Should I answer "Christian" if I don't accept the Nicene Creed?


The Atheist Foundation of Australia position is that no one should consider themselves Christian if they do not accept the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed.

So I should be honest?

No one has ever gone to hell for being honest.