Australia has no official religion and protects both freedom of religion and freedom from religion in its constitution. This means that no Australian should be forced into any particular religious practices or discriminated against on the basis of their religion, or lack thereof.
Given that Australia has been an overwhelmingly Christian nation until recent decades, it's not at all surprising that we have several public holidays based around Christian religious events. At the present time, Christians still make up around 60% of the population, with about 30% being non-religious, so there hasn't been a strong push towards changing this. Non-religious Australians have a history of being fairly easy going when it comes to issues like these, so most of the push for removing religious public holidays would come from people of non-Christian faiths, who are still a very small minority.
Why change things when the majority is happy with the status quo? There are a few reasons:
- The majority will continue to shrink over time and will eventually no longer be the majority. You could wait until then, but why cling to things desperately once you can see what the future will hold. Why not embrace them sooner?
- Having public holidays based around holy days for one specific religion makes our constitution a lie. We can't honestly claim to have freedom of religion and no favoured religion as long as we treat one differently to all of the others. The number of practitioners should be irrelevant. Either we have an official religion or we don't, but we shouldn't be hypocrites.
- We have our fair share of racial problems in Australia, particularly with the poor treatment of minorities, many of whom practice non-Christian religions. By giving Christianity a favoured status we contribute to this problem and make it worse.
- If non-Christians are quite able to get by in Australia without having their holy days as public holidays, then surely Christians can manage to do the same.
I think replacing Christmas Day as a public holiday would probably not be necessary. This day has taken on so much secular meaning and built up secular traditions that it can be fairly considered a cultural day, not just one for Christians. It helps that a lot of the Christmas traditions have pagan rather than Christian origins, but in the end, the point is that most people enjoy Christmas trees, giving presents, Santa Claus, etc without associating this with religion.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are a different matter. Although we have the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, and general excessive consumption of chocolate, I'm not sure that this is widely practiced by non-Christians, though perhaps this is changing and becoming more widespread, in the same way that Halloween is slowly becoming a thing in Australia, and no longer just an American holiday. So there might be an argument for keeping Easter Sunday, but I think Good Friday definitely has to go. It is absolutely a Christian specific holiday and really has no business being a public holiday.
So what should we do instead?
There are a lot of options. Western Australia should probably have a Mining Day public holiday! Northern Territory needs a Why The Hell Am I Still Living Here Day.
I think the best options would be to make Mothers Day and Fathers Day public holidays. Everyone can relate to them, and having public holidays based around bringing families together seems like a good idea in this age of ever increasing busyness.
What public holidays would you pick?