Last weekend I went to the city to attend a bridal expo at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. To get to the convention centre, I take the train to Southern Cross Station and walk the rest of the way. I was surprised to see a lot of advertising for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.
The Book of Mormon, the satirical musical that pokes fun at the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is in town. I considered that these could be ads for the show, but they’re not. The ads are for mormon.org.au, the website of the Mormon Church in Australia.
I wondered if any religious organisation could advertise like this at Southern Cross Station. I asked Southern Cross Station via Twitter, but there was no response. JCDecaux manages the advertising for the station. It costs about $89,900 for “station domination” ads on the platform and concourse for four weeks between January and September.
The Advertising Standards Bureau administers a national system of advertising self-regulation. The only mention of religious advertising is regarding “themed terminology attract complaints about blasphemy or offensiveness to religious beliefs.” The examples included demonstrate that when they say “religious”, they mean Christian.
What about the separation of church and state? Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:
“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
Southern Cross Station, is owned, operated, and maintained by AssetCo, a subsidiary of IFM Investors, under a 30 year lease to 2036 from the Victorian State Government. So, this may not even apply. And the boundary between church and state is not vigorously protected in Australia. The federal government funds private parochial schools and public schools can have Christian chaplains. There is no great Pagan movement in Australia to challenge the privileges that Christians receive or to seek them for themselves.