What is Religion?

Lawbook Co
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Local Government Law Journal, 2008, 13 pp. 168 - 183
Issue Date:
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The definition of what is a "religion" is of enormous importance, especially for local government authorities who are often called upon to decide whether a particular body is entitled to a rating exemption or concession on the grounds that it is a religious body. It was not until 1943 that the High Court of Australia made its first important pronouncement on the meaning of religion for legal purposes but, regrettably, only two judges in the case found it necessary to state a view as to the connotation of the term. According to the High Court, the notion of what is religion is open-ended and elastic, for the scope of religion has varied very greatly during human history. Further, religion may be theistic or nontheistic. In a 1983 case as to whether Scientology was a religion for taxing purposes, two out of five judges opined that belief in the supernatural was an essential prerequisite for there to be a religion. According to two other judges in the case, belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle was one of the more important indicia of a religion and, if absent, it was unlikely that one has a religion. Regrettably, the court provided little or no assistance as to how one supposedly determines whether a particular belief system postulates belief in the supernatural. Indeed, no definitive test was propounded by a majority of the High Court and, to date, no such test has ever been propounded by the court or any other Australian superior court. Worse, the formulation enunciated by the High Court is misleading, inadequate and unhelpful.
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