Church bells rang when Australia adopted its constitution in July, 1900. And well they might. Consensus had been difficult to obtain. The hard work, the petitions, prayers and initiatives of churchgoers, helped make the federation a reality. One of the fights Christians rejoiced to win was inclusion of a reference to God in the preamble.
Early in the constitutional discussions, Patrick Glynn, a Roman Catholic delegate, proposed that the preamble include the words, "invoking Divine Providence." Australia's secularists did not like this. They wanted no reference to God in the document. Neither did the Seventh Day Adventists, who feared that religious language could be turned against them.
On the whole, however, the delegates favored Glynn's proposal. It was batted about and different wording suggested. Churches got into the act. Huge petitions arrived, pressuring the delegates to make mention of God. The churches collected so many signatures that some political leaders became convinced the constitution could never be approved without a reference to our creator.
On this day, March 2, 1898, Mr. Glynn said, "I beg to move: That the following words be inserted after the word 'Constitution' (line 2)-- 'humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God...' "
Sir John Downer backed him. "I don't know whether it has occurred to Honorable Members that the Christian religion is a portion of the English Constitution ... It is part of the Law of England which I think we undoubtedly brought with us when we settled these colonies.."
Secularists jeered in the last session when the majority of delegates voted to honor God. The wording that was finally adopted was this: "Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.." As small as that remembrance of God was, Christians cheered.
The constitution ensured religious protection by prohibiting the government from establishing a religion or imposing religious tests on citizen's activities. It guaranteed religious freedom.
As for Glynn, in the middle of one of the sessions, he dashed off a proposal of marriage to a woman he had met just once, three years before. She accepted by telegram, and they married within a week.
- "Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act." http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/general/constitution/preamble.htm)
- Matthews, Ch. H. S. A Parson in the Australian Bush. London: Edward Arnold, 1908. Source of the image.
- Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates. Wednesday, 2nd March, 1898. http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/pubotbin/toccer-new? id=fed0056.sgml&images=& data=/usr/ot&tag= fed&part=29&division=div1)
- Sawer, Geoffrey. The Australian Constitution. Canberra : Australian Govt. Pub. Service, 1975.
- Various other internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.