AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

God, the churches, and the making of the Australian commonwealth

by Richard Ely

Institution: University of Tasmania
Year: 1975
Record ID: 1032197
Full text PDF: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/17673/1/ely_thesis.pdf


This study began about three years ago as an inquiry into how the two religious clauses in the Australian Constitution- the "recognitlon" of deity in the preamble, and Section 116 - became part of the Constitution; and also into the meaning of these clauses in the minds of the Convention delegates. That remains its core, but the study has expanded its scope in two ways. It soon became evident that behind the events immediately associated with the inclusion of the two religious provisions lay a story of considerable interest, and that the natural terminal point for this story was not the close of the Convention in March, 1898, or even the referenda in 1898 and 1899, but the early Commonwealth period. It was only late in 1896 at the "People's Convention" at Bathurst that extensive Catholic and Protestant interest in the federation movement became aroused. From early 1897 the public efforts of the non-Catholic clerics, who operated largely under the aegis of Councils of Churches in the various colonies, chiefly were directed to two aims: to obtain the formal "recognition" of deity in the preamble; and to secure the saying of prayers in the federal parliament. On a less publicized level, many hoped to achieve some kind of official or semi-official standing in the emerging Commonwealth. Some hoped, additionally, to obtain a new source of politicolegal leverage for pet projects such as sabbath reform. These Protestant and Ang1ican initiatives received in their publicized aspect wide pub1ic support. They also, in 1897-8, provoked spirited, well organized, and extensive public opposition. This came partly from secularists (such as Barton and Higgins) who were concerned to protect civil government from clericalism and involvement in religious quarrels; and partly from religious voluntarists - notably the Seventh Day Adventists - who were concerned rather to protect the Church from State. The Adventists, who had suffered legal persecution at the hands of "Sunday observance" Protestants, provided the main organizational base for the counter-campaign. Both groups achieved some success. By March, 1898, Protestant-Anglican pressure had secured the incorporation of a "recognition" clause in the Constitution. In June, 1901, the two Houses of the Commonwealth parliament, responding to similar pressure, agreed to commence their sessions with corporate prayer. However their opponents, In March, 1898, were able to persuade the Convention to include a clause (Section 116) totally prohibiting the clerics from achieving their less advertized political and status ambitions. Catholic initiatives largely came from or remained closely associated with Cardinal Moran. He intervened on three occasions. Once, to stand for election to the Federal Convention; once, to support the Federation Bill in the 1899 rendum; and once, to secure what he deemed his right of precedence at the 1 January ceremony at Centennial Park at which the Commonwealth was inaugurated. Each intervention was dramatic and…