In Australia's latest Census report, more people identified with "no religion" than with Catholicism, a feat unprecedented in the country's history.
The number of people reporting "no religion" rose from 22.6 percent to 29.6 percent in just five years, almost double the reported 16 percent in 2001.
Those identifying as Catholic dropped to 22.6 percent from 25.3 percent, making it the second most popular religion in Australia.
Fifty-two percent of Australians identify with a Christian religion, while only eight percent reported as non-Christian. Islam rose from 2.2 percent to become the most popular non-Christian religion, reporting in at 2.6 percent followed by Buddhism at 2.4 percent.
Kylie Sturgess, the president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, argues that the census results should be taken seriously by the leaders who undermine opinions of the non-religious. “Politicians, business leaders and influencers take heed: this is an important milestone in Australia’s history," Sturgess told news.com.au. "Those who marked down ‘No religion’ deserve much more recognition. We will be making our opinions known, and there’s power in numbers.”
Even though the "no religion" option was popular amongst Australians, it did not come without controversy thanks to a 2016 mass email scare. According to the Christian ethics group Salt Shakers, the emails directed Australians to not mark the "no religion" box on the report, claiming that the nation would be declared a "Muslim country."
“Bear in mind that although many Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion,” the email states. It urges people to enter the religion they were born into, claiming the nation "will officially be declared to be a Muslim country – because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect this.”
Michael Boyd, the vice president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia told news.com.au the claims were "ridiculous" and fabricated. “It’s really been driven by racist, far-right wing groups,” he said. “They’ll take any position to scare people about Muslims”.
It's unclear if the email campaign is why atheism took the day in this census, but it could be a factor. Nonetheless, within the margin of error, it marks a turn for the country. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey 22.8 of Americans questioned considered themselves similarly "unaffiliated" with any religion, a rise of 6.7 percent since 2007.