Media Release: Time to fix the ‘leading’ census question on religion

Time to fix the 'leading' census question on religion

As the Australian Bureau of Statistics wraps up its 2021 census topics review, NSL ambassador Chris Schacht ("Shot") has stated that the 'leading' religious affiliation question results in inaccurate data.


"There's only one reason Australia’s 'No Religion' score is half that of other Western nations. We're not more religious; the census question is simply wrong," says NSL ambassador and former senator, Chris Schacht.

Submissions closed on June 30 -- a call by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for public input to improve the quality of data to be collected at the next census in 3 years' time.

Mr Schacht said that secular groups have campaigned for years to correct the 'loaded' or 'closed' question on Religious Affiliation which misleadingly asks, "What is the person's religion?".

"This immediately assumes every Australian has a supernatural belief in a particular god. Evidence shows that many people just tick the religion they were taught as a child, even though those early beliefs have long since lapsed.

"Comparable Western countries have far higher rates of non-belief -- as percentages, New Zealand is 52, England 54, Scotland 62, and Scandinavian nations over 80 per cent 'No Religion'.

"The reason is simply that these countries ask 'open' questions with formats that are clear and direct."

For example:

"Does the person practise a religion?" Please mark YES or NO.
If NO move to the next question. If YES mark one of the options below.

Mr Schacht said many humanist and secular groups have again argued, based on empirical evidence, that 'closed' questions produce corrupted data -- it's why the 'No Religion' score in the 2016 census was only 30 per cent.

He said all religions have benefited substantially from government grants, subsidies and tax exemptions based on what is "a mistaken belief that the population is highly religious", and that is not the case.

"There is no doubt that Australia is predominantly 'religion neutral' -- more than 50 per cent.

"And we will show a more accurate figure -- similar to other Western nations -- when ABS finally ask an 'open' question on Religious Affiliation at the next census," Mr Schacht said.


National Secular Lobby Limited