Boost to ‘No Religion’ result depends on non-religious Aussies taking the question seriously and making a wise choice

The number of Australians marking ‘No Religion’ would rise significantly if all non-religious people actually answered the religion question on the census seriously instead of choosing to skip it or enter joke responses.

At the 2016 census, more than 2.1 million people – or 9.1% of the census respondents – chose not to answer the religion question, leaving the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to categorise them in the ‘Not Stated’.

Of these people, a large number could be expected to tick ‘No Religion’ if they actually answered the question.

The ‘No Religion’ return could also make significant gains from people who have previously marked a worldview such as ‘atheist’, ‘humanist’ or ‘rationalist’, or frivolous descriptions such as ‘Jedi’, ‘beer’ or ‘Pastafarian’.

The ABS categorises these responses outside the specific ‘No Religion’ category under ‘Secular Beliefs’ and ‘Inadequately Described’ respectively.

Non-religious Australians who mark any of these on their census are merely helping to deflate the ‘No Religion’ result and maintain an unwarranted influence for religious organisations in government policy.

Although ‘Atheism’ is given as an example of another religion on this year’s census, the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is encouraging all atheists to mark the ‘No Religion’ box.

In a post on its Facebook page, the AFA – which is one of the free-thought organisations behind the Census21 campaign – has told its members that, clearly, “atheism is not a religion”.

At the 2016 census, 32,302 Australians marked themselves as ‘atheist’, while 106,000 people marked descriptions such as ‘Jedi’, ‘beer’ or ‘Pastafarian’, which do not fit into any category in the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups.

Michael Dove, leader of the Census21 campaign, is urging all non-religious Australians who have previously skipped the question or marked down a worldview or a joke religion to this time mark ‘No Religion’ instead.

“We need to make sure that everyone who is not religious actually makes the wise decision and ticks ‘No Religion’,” he says.

“It’s vitally important that we have accurate census data because this data is used by governments and many other organisations to inform a wide range of important decisions like the amount of public funding religious organisations receive, and the voice and influence that religion is given in public affairs and media.

“In particular, we suspect there is a large number of non-religious Australians who are simply opting not to answer the religion question because they don’t feel that it is relevant to them. It’s crucial that they actually answer the question by ticking ‘No Religion’.”