Skip navigation
The Australian National University

Liberal Assumptions in Section 116 Cases and Implications for Religious Freedom

10.22145/flr.46.1.5
Alex Deagon (2018) 46 (1)

It is well known that the ‘free exercise’ and ‘establishment’ clauses in Section 116 of the Australian Constitution have been interpreted narrowly by the High Court of Australia. However, there has been limited examination of theoretical assumptions or perspectives which may have consciously or unconsciously informed this interpretation. This article argues the High Court has adopted liberal assumptions about the nature of religion and its relationship to the state in the Section 116 cases. These liberal assumptions are a sharp distinction between ‘private’ religious and ‘public’ non-religious exercise, that religious freedom is subject to state determinations of what is required for neutrality between religions, and religious freedom is subject to state determinations of what is required for social order. The article proceeds to consider the implications of these assumptions for Section 116 cases in terms of a narrowing of religious freedom and a broadening of state power, and suggests awareness of these issues may produce a more nuanced approach to Section 116 in the future.

Vol 46, Issue 1, 2018

Table of contents

Updated:  19 May 2017/Responsible Officer:  FLR Business Managers/Page Contact:  FLR Web Publishers