Looks like Australians have won another small victory in the way that their religiosity is officially assessed. In particular how census forms pose the religion question on census forms is posed.
I discussed the problems in my article Non religious in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian census form buried the “no religion” option – and may, therefore, have skewed results – see below:
Compare that to the New Zealand census question below:
I asked the obvious question:
“Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?
Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?”
Greater minds than mine also asked this question. Rationalist and sceptic groups lobbied the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the question during the post-2011 census review. They argued it was about accuracy. And they succeeded (see Census change: Is Australia losing its religion?).
“No religion” moves to first
It may seem like a subtle change, a psychological victory for the “nones,” but The Sydney Morning Herald argues it “may completely change the way Australia sees itself and have drastic consequences for the way government money is spent on welfare and education.”
“If Christianity did lose its position as the majority religion, this could impact government spending programs such as the school chaplaincy program, according to those advocating for the change.
“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,” president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, said this week.”
So it is more than a psychological victory. Surely it is important that allocation of resources to people of different beliefs should not be wroughted by the trickiness of questions like that in the old census form.