Christian groups say a campaign by atheists for Aussies who don't belong to a religious denomination to fill in "no religion" on the August 9 census is misleading.
The Australian Atheist Foundation is running a campaign encouraging people who are no longer religious to answer "no religion" on their census form on August 9.
The foundation's website, CensusNoReligion.org.au, encourages people who identify as atheist, humanist or rationalist to tick the "No religion" box rather than writing their preferred identifier in the blank space below the question.
The foundation also encourages people who are no longer religious to mark the "no religion" option rather than the religion they were brought up in.
(They are also urging people not to fill in their religion as "jedi" or anything like that, because that throws off the number of atheists in Australia.)
"Often the transfer of your tax dollars to religious organisations is justified on the basis of the Census results. Also special concessions and exemptions are given including the right to discriminate against some groups," the website states.
But religious organisations fear that faith groups could be marginalised if too many people who don't belong to an organised religion choose the "no religion" option.
A competing website - YesReligion.org.au - has been set up encouraging Aussies to take the time to write in their preferred option in the blank space.
"We are encouraging all Australians to reflect on their values and true religious affiliation, even if they are currently nominal in their faith, when responding to the religion question on the census," the website states.
Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby told BuzzFeed News he wants the next census to include options for atheists and agnostics to avoid confusion.
"There’s another big category of people called agnostics who aren’t religious but are open to the idea that there is a god. They’re open to the idea that the transcendent may exist," he said. "I would submit that most people who aren’t part of an organised religion would be agnostic, not atheist, and that’s a very important distinction."
Complicating matters further, the "no religion" option is now the top option on the religion question in this year's census - a move some religious groups think is a conspiracy to lessen religious influence in Australia.
Shelton says he's not "materially concerned" by the change, but would be disappointed if it was made in response to "atheist activists".
A spokesperson for the census said the change had been made following a review which found there were perceptions of bias in the question.
"These changes make the question more consistent with other Census questions and their response categories, as well as bringing the format into line with how other countries ask questions around religion."
The spokesperson also encouraged people with concerns about the question - which is optional to answer - to use the blank space to provide more detail.
"The options that are listed are designed to reflect those religions most commonly reported in the previous Census. The 'Other (please specify)' response option provides those with non-theistic religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs or other life philosophies with an opportunity to record their beliefs, no matter how they are defined," the spokesperson said.
The last census in 2011 showed Australia is already becoming less religious.
The number of people reporting "no religion" has steadily climbed since the option was added to the census in 1971. In 2001, less than 15% of Aussies said they weren't religious, but in the 2011 census, that number had jumped to 22% - only Catholic was higher at 25% of the population, with Anglican third highest at 17%.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.