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Religious freedom

The roots of South Australia's founding precepts of religious freedom date from the European Enlightenment of the 1600s. It was at this time that a new framework for religion was formulated, one in which religion was able to sit comfortably with the scientific and philosophical legacy of the Renaissance and before the controversy and doubts which would come in the mid nineteenth century. Central to the Enlightenment philosophy was a piety and religious belief on which all scientific thought firmly rested.

From this period emerged the 'Dissenters' and 'Non Conformists' - those who wished to move beyond the traditional forms and beliefs of the state church. By 1650 when the English Civil Wars were over, many had moved away from the Church of England to become Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists. It was also at this time that the Quaker faith was spreading. Many increasingly sought a faith which embraced reason and science rather than traditional mysticism. Although the 1689 Toleration Act allowed dissenting groups to establish their own places of worship, members faced varying forms of intolerance, including economic and social restrictions, until well into the nineteenth century.

In the 1830s, prominent London dissenters Robert Gouger and George Fife Angas became interested in the Quaker Wakefield's Colonisation Plan. They dreamed of a British colony with a founding ethos of religious freedom, where there was no favoured state church and no restriction placed on any one religious group above another.

The arrival of German-speaking Lutherans, Afghan Muslims, English Quakers and Jews, made for a diversity of beliefs which found support in the system of separation of church and state in the new colony. In this fertile ground of religious diversity after past experiences of discriminationa dn disempowerment would grow innovations in social reform.

Of all the diversity of religious beliefs in South Australia however, the oldest has seemingly taken the longest time to receive general recognition. Retaining a strong connection with the lands of their birth, the first settlers placed their spirituality in churches, mosques and synagogues, and in the books of their prophets and teachers. They understood little of the ancient spiritual traditions of the Aboriginal population, and their connections with the land.

The Aboriginal people did not need to build churches - the land, with its rivers, mountains, birds, animals and plants, was the basis of their spirituality and teachings. The Europeans did not equate Aboriginal nomadic traditions with spirituality, but rather with primitive tribalism, seeing these people as needing civilising through the medium of Christian education.

Governor Hindmarsh's proclamation, read at Holdfast Bay in 1836, spoke of extending 'protection to the native population as to the rest of His Majesty's Subjects.' But this promise of equality was in reality paternalism, and in 1838, the South Australian gazette and colonial register records Governor Gawler's speech to the 'natives,

"Black men, we wish to make you happy. But you cannot be happy unless you imitate good white men. Build huts, wear clothes, work and be useful. Above all things you cannot be happy unless you love God who made heaven and earth and men and all things." [4 November 1838 p. 4]

Evangelical paternalism would dominate European responses to Aboriginal spirituality for 150 years and more, Australia-wide. The High Court decision in the Mabo case in 1992, the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Royal Commission in 1995, and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 'Bringing them home' report in 1997, would all affirm Aboriginal spiritual connectedness with the land, but not significantly change outside attitudes to the beliefs of the indigenous people.

Islam came to South Australia in December 1865 with 31 'Afghan' camel handlers. Recruited to manage the 124 camels imported by Thomas Elder and Samuel Stuckey for carrying stores to and from Lake Hope, and Beltana Stations, the handlers were devout followers of the Islamic faith. Despite discrimination, violence and cultural misunderstanding, they maintained their religious practices, even passing them on to Aboriginal wives and children. The success of the camel trains in the outback led to the creation of springs as sacred places of worship in the desert, places where the cameleers washed prior to prayer. More permanent places of worship in the form of mosques were constructed of mud, corrugated iron and thatch.

The Jewish community in South Australia dates from the earliest European arrivals in the colony, with the generous philanthropist Emanuel Solomon calling a meeting to form a congregation in 1848 and a synagogue in Rundle Street which was consecrated on 4 September 1850. On 11 September 1850 The Register newspaper reported a history of the persecution of "The Jews" in England, and stated;
"We know of nothing more incompatible with the genius of Christianity than the lingering aversion with which some bigoted Christians regard 'the peculiar people'. ... they practice at the Bar by sufferance. They are still however excluded from Parliament. That such anomolies should exist in reference to this well-disposed, and in every respect naturalized portion of the community is discreditable to the common sense of the age. We hope that Australia will ere long teach a lesson to the parent state in this particular." [Register 11/09/1850 pg. 4]

The first English (Sephardic) Jews were joined by brethren from eastern Europe, and recruited first a Dutch rabbi and later an American, building a community which has remained multiculturally varied to the present day.

Emanuel Solomon
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Friends Meeting House
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Lutheran School, Lobethal
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Missionaries, Tanunda
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Mosque at Marree
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Mosque at Woodville North
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Reverend Winifred Kiek
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Shri Ganesha Hindu Temple
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