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Whether Australia is a secular society is determined by the
interpretation and use of the terms ‘secular’ and ‘secularism’. Based on my
understanding, I believe that Australia is a secular society. This will be
explained through Charles Taylor’s three different forms of secularism. Further
reference to Australia’s government will be used to reinforce the notion that
Australia is a secular society.

Australia as a secular society is often debated but its
truth lies within the terminology used. What is interpreted by the terms
secular and secularism determines whether Australia should be described as a
secular country, as stated by philosopher Charles Taylor (2007: 18-21). Taylor
acknowledged three types of secularism. Firstly, secularism can mean that
religion is an option for the public sphere. It is not removed and is
accessible to both the people and the state. Religion instead becomes a
singular voice amongst many, including those with no religion (Taylor 2007: 18).
Secondly, secularism can relate to the populations strong religious feeling or
belief. This form can occur even where the state still supports religion and
involves a measurable deduction of religious feeling or belief (Taylor 2007: 18).
Lastly, secularism could be the deletion of all religious feelings, beliefs and
gods from the public sphere. However, religion is still eligible to be
practised and believed in by the private sphere. Therefore, the population can
be religious whereas the state is secular (Taylor 2007: 19).

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In conclusion, a country may be highly collaborative with
religious feelings or beliefs and still be considered secular, so long as the
country doesn’t endorse one religion to the exclusion of other points of view (Taylor
2007: 21). Therefore, whether Australia is a secular society is determined by
which form of Taylor’s secularism is appropriate. Regarding Australia’s
government, Taylor’s first form best fits Australia’s status as a secularised
society. This is because neither the second or third form illustrate
Australia’s government and its relationship with religion. This is exemplified
in Section 116 of the Australian Constitution (Commonwealth of Australia
Constitution Act: s 116):

“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.”

Therefore, Australia cannot create a state church, but
Australia’s government works closely with religious groups. For example, the
government collaborates with religious organisations to help fund educational
systems and acknowledges religious weddings (Henry & Kurzak 2012: 1-3). The
government’s involvement essentially rules out Taylor’s third form of
secularism, as the state must be secular. Although Australia is still
predominantly religious, Australia is changing in religious affiliations. From
1996 to 2006, the number of people identifying as non-religious grew by 25.7% (Australian
Government 2018: 1-2). This currently eliminates Taylor’s second form of
secularism. This leaves Taylor’s first form of secularism which indicates that
religion is an option for the public sphere. Therefore, Australia is a secular
country. This form of secularism allows for religion and beliefs to be allowed and
shared in both the public and private spheres of Australia. 

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