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Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, a professed atheist, recently stated she respects the Church, in response to an archbishop’s suggesting Christians might not vote for her on August 21. But does one’s religious background affect voters in Australia?

Australia, being a more secularized place than the United States, but not as much as the United Kingdom, generally is less inclined to consider a person’s religious background to be a significant or essential factor in elections. Whilst calling oneself an ‘atheist’ in the United States would be considered to be political suicide, in Australia, it may come as a surprise to some, but would be welcomed and even praised in some quarters.

As to whether the prime minister’s personal beliefs will have any effect her political decisions, I’m skeptical of the common and widespread assumption that one’s personal beliefs are merely ‘private’ and have no public consequences. Our beliefs are always personal, but never private.

Patrick Langrell, director of young-adult outreach for the Catholic archdiocese of New York, is originally from Australia.

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