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‘God wanted Australia to be a nation’, writes the historian John Hirst. The making of the Commonwealth, its makers believed, was a holy enterprise guided by a divine hand. ‘If anything ought to be styled providential it is the extraordinary combination of circumstances, persons, and their most intricate interrelations of which the Commonwealth is about to become the crown’, Alfred Deakin believed. Other public men shared his conviction. By bringing unity out of division, Federation presaged an ecumenical union of people within the Empire and beyond. Tasmanian Anglican Bishop Henry Montgomery considered it a ‘deeply religious question’, the beginning of a ‘Federation, more and more complete with our own race everywhere’. God wanted Australia to be British and white, as well as Christian. Even so, Australians were divided about His place in their national life. Delegates to the 1898 federal convention in Adelaide passed two seemingly contradictory resolutions: one inserting the words ‘humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’ in the preamble to the Constitution, and another, inspired by the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing a separation of church and state. ‘The Commonwealth’, read section 116 of the Constitution, ‘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’. The churches had campaigned hard for the first resolution and would later secure a measure to begin sessions of the Commonwealth parliament with the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. Christians determined to prevent the state interfering with religious liberty often supported the separation of church and state as strongly as secularists determined to prevent the churches imposing their dogmas on the state.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Commonwealth of Australia
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781107445758
ISBN (Print)9781107011557
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

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