More racism at government schools

According to the public school lobby, government schools promote ethnic tolerance. But according to a new report on racism and its effects among young Australians, three-quarters of students at government schools in the survey had experienced racism, and that after statistical analysis:

students who attend a catholic school are 1.7 times LESS likely to report experiences of racism than students attending government schools.

Admittedly there were only a few Catholic schools in the survey and we aren’t told anything about the ethnic composition of those schools. Though overall NESB Australians make identical school sector choices as English-speaking Australians, that doesn’t tell us much about any individual school.

However I can think of a couple of plausible reasons why the broad finding might be right. The first is that while the public school lobby focuses on religion as a potential ‘divisive’ force, major religions such as Christianity and Islam are multi-ethnic and so religious identity cuts across ethnic identity. By making a common religious identity more salient, kids at religious schools may focus less on ethnic tribal affiliations.

The second reason is that private schools tend to have stronger discipline, which should reduce racial incidents. Behaviour is much easier to change than attitudes, and so students at schools which police anti-social behaviour effectively are less likely to experience racism even if underlying attitudes are similar to those at other schools.

Empty pews, 1967-2007

The Coalition has a stable advantage over Labor among churchgoers. But Pentecostals aside, is this a diminishing asset? The figure below shows that it is.

Sources: 1967-1979, Australian National Political Atttidues Survey; 1984-88 National Social Science Survey; 1990-2007 Australian Election Survey.

I’ve recorded the answers as given in the surveys, but I think the rise of ‘never’ attend actually occurred in the 1970s. The difficulty is the 1979 ANPA poll, which I suspect is a bit of a rogue survey. In addition to the ‘never’ response, it has a huge 25% ‘not applicable’ response, which matches the proportion in the previous question saying they have no religion. But this no religion response is much higher than the 1981 census or the 1984 NSSS, both of which have about 10% of the population without any religious affiliation. My estimate is that about 25% of the population never attended a religious service in the late 1970s, up from 16% in 1967.

The trend towards lower weekly religious attendance seems to have slowed to a near stall in the 1990s and 2000s, while the never attending group has continued to grow. They now outnumber regular attenders by more than three to one. These are the electoral realities of religion today, not a much smaller number of enthusiastic Pentecostals.

Were the Pentecostals important to Howard?

Last week, commenter Krystian suggested that flat figures on party support by religious attendance suggested that groups like Hillsong had little influence on support for the Howard government. In the data I have, I can’t directly examine Hillsong, which is buried in the broader category of Pentecostal. But we can roughly estimate the electoral impact of Pentecostal churches.

As the figure below suggests, Pentecostal numbers have been increasing. Between 1996 and 2006, Pentecostal numbers increased by 26%, compared to a 10% increase in other religions. However, they are still a small proportion of all those declaring a religion in the census. In that decade, their market share went from 1.07% to 1.23%.

Source: ABS, census, various years. Continue reading “Were the Pentecostals important to Howard?”

Which party do churchgoers support?

People who regularly attend church (or synagogue, mosque etc) are likely to be more influenced by religion than those with only a nominal religious affiliation. On the theory that most religions tend towards cultural conservatism, I’d expect frequent churchgoers to be more likely to support the Coalition than Labor.

The figure below, which looks at people who say they attend a religious service once a week or more, confirms this hypothesis. The more interesting aspect of it is that there appears to be almost no trend in this over 40 years.

Sources: 1967, 1979, Australian National Political Attitudes Survey; 1990-2007 Australian Election Survey.

If we put the 1967 Labor result down to the complexity of dealing with the DLP in that year (broken down results: 30% Labor, 9% DLP), and put the 1990 Coalition result down to some rogue factors, we have virtually flat lines over four decades.

Given all that’s been going on in changing religious observance, along with wider social and political changes, this aspect of religion and politics seems extraordinarily stable.

Which party do Catholics support?

Pollytics blog today reports on an Essential Research survey on religion and party affiliation. It finds that the religious divide in Australian politics, with Catholics tending to favour Labor, and Protestants tending to favour the Coalition, remains alive. According to this survey, 50% of Catholics support Labor and only 29% support the Coalition.

Other surveys, however, find that among Catholics the Coalition has been catching up on Labor. The chart below tracks 40 years of data using the party id (”think of yourself as Labor, Liberal…etc”) question rather than which party the respondent supports at the current time. Pollytics says that Essential’s question was which party the respondent felt “closest to”, but perhaps this is building in too much of the Rudd bubble.

Sources: 1967*, 1979, Australian National Political Attitudes Survey; 1987-2007 Australian Election Survey. Continue reading “Which party do Catholics support?”

Why is religion in anti-discrimination law?

The exemption [from anti-discrimination law for religious schools] stands or falls on whether there is something so unique about religious belief in education that it should over-ride the principles of equal employment opportunity that the community applies to virtually every other workplace. …. Why should some employers be able to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief when the law specifically proscribes this for the general population?

Ken Lovell, 20 July.

To me the issue stands or falls on the conceptual basis for including religion in anti-discrimination law in the first place.

On one view it is because religion is deeply important to many people, and as a community we accept that we all should be allowed to live according to our spiritual-cultural beliefs. Anti-discrimination law means that people don’t have to hide their religion when looking for a job or buying services. This is likely to be especially important for people who display religious symbols or dress in accordance with religious norms.

On another (not mutually exclusive) view, religion has a long history of causing social strife. With some glaring exceptions like Northern Ireland, Western countries have largely dealt with this through the practice of toleration. Anti-discrimination law gives legal force to this practice of just putting up with other religious beliefs, whether we like them or not.

On these justifications, the legal exemptions given to organisations based on religion are not conceptual exemptions. Rather they give effect to the underlying ideas that religion is important and that the chances that religion will cause social strife should be minimised. Continue reading “Why is religion in anti-discrimination law?”

How much power should government funding give?

The Age this morning reported on religious groups mobilising to fight possible changes to anti-discrimination law, which could force religious organisations, including private schools, to end otherwise-prohibited discriminatory practices against people who do not share their beliefs or lifestyles.

In this dispute, I favour religious freedom and believe the current exemptions to anti-discrimination law should be retained.

But ANU academic Margaret Thornton raises a possible complicating issue:

“I think that if private schools receive money from the state, as they do, they should be subject to the law of the land, they should not be able to claim all these exemptions,” she said.

But this kind of argument has huge implications for government’s broader financial relationships with civil society. Should taking any government money give the state total control? (And state governments are minor funding sources for private schools.)
Continue reading “How much power should government funding give?”

Religion in politics

The Fairfax broadsheets this morning report on research by Anna Crabb (published in the Australian Journal of Political Science) showing that over the years 2000 to 2006 Australian politicians increasingly made reference to Christian themes, as measured by use of the terms Christ, church, faith, pray, Jesus, Bible, spiritual, God, and religion. In 2000, 9% of speeches by prominent federal politicians mentioned one of these terms, rising steadily to a peak of 24% in 2005, before dropping back down to 22% in 2006.

The empirical work is interesting, though it is difficult to sort out to what extent this represents shifting norms in political speech (as against a claimed norm of keeping religion and politics separate), and to what extent the issues of this time period gave greater cause to mention religion.

Clearly, the rise of any terrorist movement intent on mass murder would have been mentioned regularly by politicians, and that Islamist movements killed in the name of a religion gave religion in general a salience it would not otherwise have had. Indeed, were it not for terrorism-related mentions there would have been no clear trend in religious mentions over 2000-2003.
Continue reading “Religion in politics”

A Mammon-solution to an Allah-problem

Letter writers to The Age are not impressed with demands from Muslim students for dedicated prayer rooms at RMIT. Plausibly enough, some argue that a secular institution like RMIT should not favour one religious group over another.

It seems to me than an obvious solution is being overlooked. The University should provide a Muslims-only prayer room, but do so on a commercial basis. RMIT could either rent a room to a Muslim group, or operate the prayer room itself by issuing students with swipe cards in exchange for a fee. Maybe the very religious could get bulk discounts for using the room 5 times a day, or maybe it could be like a gym membership, in which the sunk cost encourages attendance from those whose desire to get fit or show faith is not always matched with action.

If RMIT charged too much, this would provide an incentive for other groups to offer cheaper prayer space. Indeed, particularly for RMIT’s city campus I imagine there is a good business opportunity in seeking custom from the many Muslims who now use Melbourne’s CBD.

Another win-win market solution.

Is the Pope stirring up hatred of homosexuals?

The Pope’s reported comments* about homosexuality being as much a threat to the world as climate change have drawn the expected condemnation (surely gays are helping reduce climate change by not having kids??).

But I think Fred Argy worries too much when he fears that these comments may ‘stir up hatred of homosexuals’.

Certainly, religious doctrines on homosexuality help explain why non-believers are more likely than believers to be unworried by gays and lesbians. But Catholics in particular have long had a pragmatic approach to the sexual teachings of their church, as seen in the very low birth rates of many Catholic countries (and no, this is not due to abstinence).

Clive Hamilton and Michael Flood pointed out some years ago, using Morgan polling research, that Catholics are less likely than members of other Christian religions to believe that homosexuality is immoral (only 34%). Consistent with this, the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that Catholics were more likely than other Christians to support gay civil unions (50% support).
Continue reading “Is the Pope stirring up hatred of homosexuals?”