Today marks the date of the Australian census, when a slight change in how the question about religion is asked could dramatically shift the percentage of non-religious people in the nation.
Quick summary: The old census question placed “No religion” in No Man’s Land, at the bottom of a long list of options including “Other”:
The new question placed “No religion” at the top of the list, making it much more likely that people who have left organized will see it and mark it.
The past few weeks have seen the Atheist Foundation of Australia urging people to mark “No religion.” They’ve argued against the frivolous notion of saying you’re a “Jedi” just for amusement. They’ve even tried to put up billboards telling people to mark the census honestly:
But all that work may be for naught, given the glitches we’re seeing today.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics website, where users can, for the first time, fill out their forms online, has been crashing for many people. There’s no telling yet how that will affect the numbers.
One user also told me the directions for the religion question are confusing, telling atheists to mark “Other” when they should be marking “No Religion”:
If that’s an oversight, it’s stunning how it got through the whole revision process. (***Update***: I am wrong on this. I’m told that if you write “Agnostic” or “atheist” in the “Other” section, it will still be counted as “No religion.” My apologies for the confusion.)
We won’t know the results of the census for a while, but given these problems, it’s hard to know how seriously to take the results, whatever they may be.