The Separation of Church and State

“The number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.” – James Madison

“We are teaching the world the great truth that Governments do better without Kings and Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Govt.” – James Madison

The Separation of Church and State lies at the heart of the American political system. The first amendment to the United States Constitution specifies that

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

In the English political system, the Head of State, the monarch, is also head of the Church of England. People who favour a separation of the Church and State are said to support disestablishmentarianism.

In Australia, the separation of Church and State is not as clear-cut as either the United States or Great Britain, but it would be generally accepted that the State has no business interfering in the operations of organised religions.

As in the United States, Section 116 of the Australian Constitution specifies that:

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.

Archbishop Peter HollingworthIn April 2001, the appointment of the Anglican Archbishop Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General of Australia was met with muted criticism that it blurred the boundaries between Church and State.

Prime Minister John Howard argued that there was nothing wrong with appointing an ordained minister to the post, since the previous incumbent, Sir William Deane (1996-2001) had been a practising Catholic, and his predecessor, Bill Hayden (1989-96), had been a confessed atheist. Others pointed out that two previous Governors-General, Sir Zelman Cowan (1977-82) and Sir Isaac Isaacs (1931-36), were Jewish.

Critics countered that there was a difference between the private religious beliefs of those office-holders and the appointment of a consecrated bishop who had sworn an oath to the Queen as head of the Church of England.

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