Pluralism versus Separation: Tension in the Australian Church-State Relationship

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The relationship between the state and religion in Australia exists in a state of tension. On the one hand the “non-establishment” clause in section 116 of the Australian Constitution points to the separation of religion and state. On the other hand there is a high level of cooperation between the state and religion in the public sphere, most visible in the funding of religious schools by the federal government. These two visions of the Australian state-religion relationship are in tension. One requiring the removal of religion from the public sphere while the other calls for a plurality of religions to be accommodated in public spaces. This article seeks to resolve this tension by proposing a new way to understand the Australian state-religion relationship as non-establishment pluralism. Non-establishment in the sense that the Australian Constitution prohibits the establishment of any religion—be that a single state church, multiple state religions, or religion generally. Pluralism in that the state via ordinary legislation, public policy, and government action cooperates with religion in numerous areas of state and religious interest in the public sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalReligion and Human Rights: an international journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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