Australia has freedom of religion


Legal situation on religious freedom and its actual application

The Australian Constitution forbids the enactment of "any law establishing a religion, imposing religious obligations, or prohibiting the freedom to practice a religion, and qualification for public office must not include verification of religion."

Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. However, in certain circumstances the right to religious freedom may be restricted, for example if this is necessary to safeguard public safety, order and health or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.2 The State of Tasmania is the only state or area whose constitution expressly guarantees "freedom of conscience and the right to freely practice belief and practice" subject to public safety and morality.

Discrimination on the basis of a person's religion or ethno-religious background is expressly prohibited by law in all states and territories except South Australia. In the remaining seven states, government agencies are responsible for investigating complaints of religious discrimination.3

That passed in August 2016 Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly (Legislative Council of the Australian Capital Territory), the representative body of the federal capital Canberra and its territory, a law that declares religious hate speech to be unlawful defamation. The law makes it a punishable offense to stir up "hatred, disgust or disregard for a person or group or their serious degradation" for religious reasons.4

Religious groups do not need to register with the state, but religious community organizations must apply for a tax exemption from the Australian tax authorities.5

Religious education takes place in public schools in all states and territories. At some schools you have to register specifically for this (“opt-in” system), at others you can be exempted from doing so on request (“opt-out” system). In 2016, Victoria State introduced a new “opt-in” public school curriculum that made religious education no longer compulsory, but allowed students to attend school “for a maximum of 30 minutes per week during breaks or the hour before the start of classes or after the end of classes ”to participate in religious education classes.6 

The One Nation (One Nation) Party won four Senate seats in the July 2016 federal election.7 The party program included an end to Muslim immigration, a ban on the burqa and niquab in public spaces, no new mosques being built and the surveillance of existing mosques.8 Criticism of party leader Pauline Hanson was loud when she appeared in a burqa in parliament to campaign for a ban on Islamic clothing. Attorney General George Brandis warned Hanson not to violate "Australian religious sensibilities", saying: "To denigrate [a denomination's] religious clothing is abhorrent."9

In June 2016, the Federal Court of Justice dismissed an appeal against the construction of a mosque in Bendigo, Victoria, and ordered the main applicant to pay the costs.10 In 2017, the government commissioned a study of the reactions to the mosque in Bendigo in order to gain a better understanding of the effects of the controversy, particularly on the Muslim community.11 

In September 2017, three members of a right-wing extremist group were found guilty of inhumanly treating and mocking Muslims in a protest against the construction of the mosque in Bendigo in October 2015. They beheaded a doll with a toy sword in front of the offices of the Bendigo City Council while singing "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest) and shedding fake blood.12

According to a 2017 report, the "Jewish Congregation is the only community in Australia whose houses of worship, schools, organizations and meetinghouses must be protected by tall fences, armed guards, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and the like. Australian law enforcement agencies recognize the need to do so." Measures that result from the deeply rooted, multifaceted anti-Semitism in Western and Muslim culture and that is reflected in the high number of physical attacks against Jews and Jewish community institutions in the last 30 years and their ongoing threat. "13

In November 2016, a council in Sydney retrospectively approved the construction of an eruv (sabbatical fence), which had already been built a year earlier in the St. Ives district. “An Eruv consists of lines that are stretched several meters above the ground between the electricity pylons on public land. It allows practicing Jews to carry out activities within the Eruv on the Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden to them. "14 Members of the Christian community expressed their support for the establishment of the Eruv. One parishioner said, "There is no room here for exclusion, discrimination or anti-Semitism".15

In August, a court upheld a city council's ban on building a new synagogue in Bondi, a suburb of Sydney, because the construction was viewed as a target for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and thus an “intolerable security risk”. The board of directors of the local Jewish community called the decision of the council and the court “unprecedented” and added: “The consequences are enormous. Basically, this means that Jewish organizations are not allowed to exist in residential areas. The decision stifles the existence of Judaism and Jewish activity in Sydney. It sets a precedent for all of Australia and indirectly rewards terrorism ”.16 At the end of September 2017, modified construction plans with increased security measures were presented to the council.17



According to a report by Executive Council of Australian Jewry (Executive Council for Judaism in Australia, ECAJ), the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased by 9.5% year-on-year from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, mainly due to the increase in anti-Semitic graffiti and posters. While the number of "attacks" remained stable, the number of "threats" increased by 39%.18 The ECAJ reported 230 incidents, including three physical assaults, 76 cases of abuse, harassment or coercion, 66 cases of property damage, vandalism or graffiti and a total of 85 threats of various kinds.19

The physical assaults included a case where a Jewish man was verbally abused and then beaten and thrown to the ground in a shopping mall parking lot, and a case where a Jewish student insulted, spat at, kicked and stepped on a bus in Sydney the chest was beaten.20 Incidents of insult and harassment were particularly common around synagogues and Jewish centers; often believers were insulted and threatened from passing cars.21 

Cases of vandalism included an incident where stones were thrown through the windows of a rabbi's home. In several cases, cars belonging to Jews were scratched with swastikas. In August, September and December 2016 the wires of the Eruv in St. Ives were repeatedly destroyed,22 and in September 2016 the glass door of a synagogue in Canberra was smashed.23 The computers of a Jewish organization were opened in February 2017 by an individual named “Dr. Mengele “called, hacked.24

A report spanning 14 months in 2014 and 2015 (the most recent report available) analyzed 243 incidents compiled by the Islamophobia Register in Australia. A key takeaway from this was that women with headgear were the main targets of Islamophobia.25 The report also found that bystanders were often reluctant or unwilling to intervene: only 25% of victims said witnesses intervened.26

In June 2016, an incendiary bomb was thrown into a car in Perth and anti-Muslim graffiti was smeared on a mosque while hundreds of people were praying inside. In the same week, another mosque in Perth was sprayed with graffiti and a pig's head was deposited in front of the main entrance.27 In July 2016, a mosque in Adelaide with the lettering "No Muslim" ("No Muslims") and smeared Nazi symbols.28 

In April 2017 a fence in Bundaberg, Queensland was sprayed with anti-Muslim graffiti. Community leaders responded by speaking out against intolerance and ignorance and supporting the Muslim community.29 A pig's head and a backpack with a swastika were seen at the entrance to the Islamic College of Brisbane (Brisbane Islamic College).30

Authorities also investigated arson attacks on Orthodox churches in Melbourne and Sydney in May 2016.31 In April and May 2016, arsonists destroyed two places of worship in Geelong: a Presbyterian church and the main mosque in a former Christian church.32 

An activist left a delivery truck on the doorstep of the building in December 2016 Australian Christian lobby (Australian Christian Lobby) parked in Canberra and blown it up. It caused damage of the equivalent of CHF 990,000. The perpetrator told the police that he chose this location for the bomb attack because he rejected the Christian lobby because of its "position on sexuality" and because "religions have failed".33 

A Greek Orthodox man carrying a large crucifix was attacked by four men in Sydney in April 2017, who insulted him, tore the crucifix from his neck and trampled on it. A Baptist minister reported that this was the fourth religious attack on Christians he had heard of in six months.34 

In October 2017, during the term of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, a nationwide survey that was supposed to provide a picture of sentiment about attitudes towards same-sex marriage, a number of churches with slogans such as "bash bigots" ("beat up religious zealots") or "Crucify‚ no ‘voters" (“If you vote against it, you should be crucified”), although the churches had not told their parishioners what to say in the course of the survey.35


Perspectives for Religious Freedom

In the reporting period, there does not appear to have been any noteworthy or increased restrictions on religious freedom by the state. However, there appears to be an increased risk of societal intolerance towards religions fueled by cultural issues such as marriage, geopolitical conflicts and negative attitudes towards immigration in Australia.

  1. Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of 1901 (rev. 1985), Section 116,,, (accessed March 20, 2018).
  2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (December 16, 1966), Art. 18,,, (accessed March 30, 2018).
  3. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2016 Report on International Religious Freedom - Australia, U.S. Department of State,, (accessed March 21, 2018).
  4. Discrimination Amendment Act 2016, Section 67A, Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory,, (accessed March 20 2018).
  5. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, op.cit.
  6. Department of Education and Training, School Policy and Advisory Guide: Special Religious Instruction, Victoria State Government, January 2016,, (accessed on March 30, 2018).
  7. J. Butler, "One Nation Get Four Senators, As Full Senate Results Finally Released," Huffington Post, Aug. 4, 2016, -as-full-senate-results-finally-rel_a_21444636 /, (accessed on March 28, 2018).
  8. A. Remeikis, “One Nation policies: The definitive guide to the views of Pauline Hanson and her senators”, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 18, 2016, -the-definitive-guide-to-the-views-of-pauline-hanson-and-her-senators-20161017-gs3z1s.html, (accessed March 28, 2018).
  9. E. McKirdy, "Far-right Australian senator slammed for burqa 'stunt'", CNN, August 17, 2017, , (Accessed March 28, 2018).
  10. "Bendigo mosque: high court throws out request to hear appeal", The Guardian, June 15, 2016, request-to-hear-appeal, (accessed March 28, 2018).
  11. S. Corsetti, "Study of reaction to Bendigo mosque proposal unveils extent of community polarization", ABC, June 16, 2017, reaction-shows-community-polarization / 8620884, (accessed on March 28, 2018).
  12. "United Patriots Front trio found guilty of inciting serious contempt of Muslims", The Guardian, September 5, 2017, -stunt-during-bendigo-mosque-protest-an-act-of-free-speech, (accessed on March 28, 2018).
  13. J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2017, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, November 26, 2017, p. 9, 2017.pdf, (accessed March 25, 2018).
  14. Eruv at St Ives, Ku-ring-gai Council, November 8, 2016,, (accessed March 20, 2018).
  15. S. Desiatnik, "Eruv decision a win for the community", The Australian Jewish News, November 10, 2016,, (accessed on March 20, 2018) .
  16. J. Hildebrand, "Bondi synagogue ban over terrorism risk leaves Jewish community shocked and furious",, August 3, 2017, ban-over-terrorism-risk-leaves-jewish-community-shocked-and-furious / news-story / 6ec6252d613583df7797c7cac2b25de4, (accessed on March 20, 2018).
  17. S. Laughlin, “Synagogue at Bondi Beach back on cards with new development application,” The Daily Telegraph, October 10, 2017, -back-on-cards-with-new-development-application / news-story / 654174fadd374733ef0995458f3c38dc, (accessed March 20, 2018).
  18. J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2017, p. 7.
  19. Ibid, p. 24.
  20. Ibid, p. 30.
  21. Ibid, pp. 30-36, and J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2016, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, November 27, 2016, pp. 30-32, /2012/08/ECAJ-Antisemitism-Report-2016d-WEB.pdf, (accessed on March 20, 2018).
  22. J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2016, p. 33 and J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2017, p. 36.
  23. J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2016, p. 33.
  24. J. Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2017, p. 36.
  25. D. Iner, Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016, Islamophobia Register Australia, p. 5,, (accessed March 15, 2018).
  26. K. Stephens, "New report finds 75 per cent of people do not help when they see a Muslim being abused in public",, July 12, 2017, life / news-life / new-report-finds-75-per-cent-of-people-do-not-help-when-they-see-a-muslim-being-abused-in-public / news-story / 5133bca6bb0be0221fd37521efd2c968, (Accessed March 25, 2018).
  27. D. Weber and N. Roberts, “Perth mosque attack: Car firebombed, anti-Islam graffiti sprayed in 'act of hate'”, ABC, June 29, 2016, 29 / firebombing-ant-islam-graffiti-attack-at-thornlie-mosque-school / 7552394, (accessed on March 25, 2018).
  28. D. Keane, "Elizabeth Grove mosque vandalized in racist attack," ABC, July 31, 2016, , (Accessed March 25, 2018).
  29. E. Reid, “Community leaders in show of support for Bundy's Muslims,” NewsMail, April 21, 2017, -mu / 3169183 /, (Accessed March 29, 2018).
  30. J. Robertson, "Rotting pig’s head left at Islamic school gate in Queensland," The Guardian, Jan.July 2017,, (accessed on March 25, 2018).
  31. "Authorities in Melbourne and Sydney investigating Orthodox church fires", The Guardian, May 2, 2016, church-fires, (accessed March 20, 2018).
  32. S. Juleff, “Who is burning Geelong's churches?”, ABC, May 18, 2016,, (access on March 20, 2018).
  33. M. Devine, "Jaden Duong told cops he disliked the Australian Christian Lobby", The Daily Telegraph, August 19, 2017, australian-christian-lobby / news-story / 7ca184254c6f175f95e26f9d20a0e3d4, (accessed March 25, 2018).
  34. M. Devine, “We rush to condemn Islamophobia. What about anti-Christian attacks? ”, The Daily Telegraph, April 8, 2017, 2bb6f9a158146e963355a6da3adbe70a, (Accessed March 25, 2018).
  35. S. Johnson, '“Christians are Nazis”: Church sprayed with vile graffiti telling people to' bash bigots' and 'crucify No voters' ”, Mail Online, October 15, 2017, -4981608 / Anglican-church-sprayed-Vote-Yes-bash-bigots.html, (accessed March 25, 2018).