Atheism and the Constitution
I was recently asked whether the fact that Ms. Julia Gillard is an athiest precludes her from being Prime Minister. I replied that I was delighted to say that I did not have to preface my answer with, “On the one hand…” and follow, “but on the other…”
The answer is that there is clearly no requirement that she believe in God.
Admittedly the Preamble to the Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act (the Constitution itself is contained in section 9 of this Imperial Act) begins with these words:
Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
Those words enjoyed considerable public support and some small opposition.
But to ensure no religious laws or tests could be imposed section 116 was inserted.
This provides: 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.
Indeed before any MP or Senator takes his or her seat, the Constitution makes provision for the MP’s or Senator’s non-belief – or unwillingness to swear an Oath in this way: 42. Every senator and every member of the House of Representatives shall before taking his seat make and subscribe before the Governor-General, or some person authorised by him, an oath or affirmation of allegiance in the form set forth in the schedule to this Constitution.
(This is usually done before a Deputy of the Governor-General appointed for the purpose, often the Chief Justice. They are taken in groups and it is always interesting to see who swears the Oath. I thought more Labor MP’s swore in 2007, following Kevin Rudd. You can watch various republicans swear allegiance to The Queen. One republican twit in London was once photographed crossing his fingers behind his back while swearing the Oath. Imagine pleading that on the Day of Judgement. )
The Schedule provides:
I, A.B., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her heirs and successors according to law. SO HELP ME GOD!
I, A.B., do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her heirs and successors according to law.
(NOTE – The name of the King or Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the time being is to be substituted from time to time.)
Before republicans get too excited to the reference to the King or Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, remember the title has changed and the Crown has divided. The title of the British King or Queen is now of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But in addition the Crown has divided and there is now a separate Crown.
In conclusion, it is very clear that her atheism is not forbidden by the Constitution.
In my opinion, in not seeking to enforce belief in God, our Founding Fathers were indeed wise men.
Professor David Flint is the national convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.