Opinion Number. 741

Subject

DEFENCE FORCES WHETHER SALVATION ARMY OFFICERS ARE MINISTERS OF RELIGION FOR PURPOSES OF ACT: MEANING OF MINISTER OF RELIGION1

Key Legislation

DEFENCE ACT 1903, s. 61 (d)

Date
Client
The Acting Secretary, Department of Defence

The Acting Secretary, Department of Defence, has forwarded the following memorandum for advice:

I shall be glad if you will be so good as to give a definition of the phrase 'Ministers of Religion', referred to in section 61 (d) of the Defence Act. A query has been received in this office from the Military Commandant, Adelaide, respecting the decision on Salvation Army Officers who are on the permanently paid staff of the Denomination.

According to the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary the term 'minister of religion' is used as a general designation for a person officially charged with spiritual functions in the Christian Church.

The person usually becomes so charged by virtue of the ceremony of ordination or some similar ceremony. With regard to most denominations there is not very much difficulty as their ministers are ordained, or the office of minister conferred on them by some similar ceremony.

As regards the Salvation Army, I presume that there is some ceremony similar to ordination by which persons are initiated into the permanent staff of the Denomination, and thus empowered to exercise its spiritual functions.

I do not think that the mere carrying out of duties in connection with a church or denomination is sufficient to make a person a minister of religion. Something more than that is required. There must be conferred on the person the right to officially exercise the spiritual functions of the denomination. This right is usually conferred by ordination or a similar ceremony.

I do not think that the test of engaging in spiritual work only and in no other can be applied, as a number of persons who have undoubtedly been ordained as ministers of religion do not engage in ordinary spiritual duties, but are engaged in secular occupations such as schoolteaching. The test is, I think, whether a certain status has been conferred on a person; whether he subsequently continues to exercise the spiritual functions which arise from that status solely is not conclusive as to whether he is a minister of religion.

In my opinion, a person is a minister of religion, who, by virtue of ordination or similar ceremony, is officially empowered to exercise spiritual functions in a denomination.

[Vol. 14, p. 438]