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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. A provision of the Constitution precludes the adoption of a state religion. Minority religions are given equal rights to land, status, and building of places of worship.

According the 1996 census, 71 percent of citizens consider themselves to be Christian, including 27 percent Roman Catholic, 22 percent Anglican, and 22 percent other Christian denominations. During the first Australian census in 1911, 96 percent of citizens identified themselves as Christian. Traditional Christian denominations have seen their total number and proportion of affiliates stagnate or decrease significantly since the 1950's. Of the Christian denominations, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses showed the largest increase in members since 1991, 16 percent and 12 percent respectively. Seventeen percent of Australians consider themselves to have no religion, a 35 percent increase from 1991.

At the time of European settlement of Australia, aboriginal inhabitants followed religions that were animistic in nature, involving belief in spirits behind the forces of nature and the influence of ancestral spirit beings. Aboriginal beliefs and spirituality, even among those Aborigines who identify themselves as members of a traditional organized religion, are intrinsically linked to the land generally and to certain sites of significance in particular. According to the 1996 census, 2 percent of Aborigines and 0.04 percent of all citizens practice traditional indigenous religions. Almost 72 percent of Aborigines practice some form of Christianity, while 16 percent list no religion. The percentage of Aborigines who practice Christianity and who list no religion mirrors almost exactly the percentages in the wider community.

Recent increased immigration from Southeast Asia and the Middle East has expanded considerably the numbers of citizens who identify themselves as Buddhists and Muslims, about 200,000 and 68,000 respectively. Affiliates of non-Christian religions, while only 3.5 percent of the population, have shown the largest increases in members since the 1991 census. Stated affiliation with Hinduism increased by 55 percent, with Buddhism by 43 percent, with Islam by 36 percent, and with Judaism by 8 percent. These changes have resulted partly from trends in immigration. In 1996 48 percent of those who had arrived in Australia since 1991 were Christians, 23 percent had no religion, 8 percent were affiliated with Buddhism, 8 percent with Islam, and 1 percent with Judaism.

The Government has put in place extensive programs to promote public acceptance of diversity and multicultural pluralism, though none are focused specifically on religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

In a 1998 report on freedom of religion and belief in Australia by the federally funded but independent Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), the Commission stated that "despite the legal protections that apply in different jurisdictions, many Australians suffer discrimination on the basis of religious belief or non-belief, including members of both mainstream and non-mainstream religions and those of no religious persuasion." Many non-Christian adherents have complained to the HREOC that the overwhelming dominance of traditional Christianity in civic life has the potential to marginalize large numbers of citizens. However, they have not yet presented any concrete evidence of such marginalization. Persons who suffer discrimination on the basis of religion may resort to the court system, which is an effective method of obtaining redress.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 11-09-1999