Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she has no intention of pretending to believe in God to attract religiously-inclined voters.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was a regular at Canberra church services and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is known as a devout Catholic.
In contrast, Ms Gillard says that while she greatly respects other people’s religious views, she does not believe in God.
Ms Gillard has been quizzed on personal topics including her attitude to religion and her relationship with her partner during interviews this morning.
She says does not go through religious rituals for the sake of appearance.
“I am not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel,” she said.
“I am what I am and people will judge that.
“For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay to them is to respect their genuinely held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine.”
“I grew up in the Christian church, a Christian background. I won prizes for catechism, for being able to remember Bible verses. I am steeped in that tradition, but I’ve made decisions in my adult life about my own views.
“I’m worried about the national interest. About doing the right thing by Australians. And I’ll allow people to form their own views about whatever is going to drive their views.
“What I can say to Australians broadly of course is I believe you can be a person of strong principle and values from a variety of perspectives.”
Meanwhile Ms Gillard has rejected claims that she is soft on Israel.
Former ambassador to Israel Ross Burns made the accusation in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Fairfax press reported.
Ms Gillard’s partner Tim Mathieson works for prominent pro-Israel lobbyist Albert Dadon’s real estate company Urbertas Group.
“I’ve seen that letter to the newspapers, that’s not right,” Ms Gillard said today.
“I’ve made up my own views about Israel and made them known publicly well before there was any suggestion that my partner would work in a property group associated with Mr Dadon.”
When Labour cabinet members were asked about their religious allegiances last December, following Tony Blair’s official conversion to Roman Catholicism, it turned out that more than half of them are not believers. The least equivocal about their atheism were the health secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary David Miliband.
The fact that Miliband is an atheist is a matter of special interest given the likelihood that he may one day, and perhaps soon, occupy No 10. In our present uncomfortable climate of quarrels between pushy religionists and resisting secularists – or attack-dog secularists and defensive religionists: which side you are on determines how you see it – there are many reasons why it would be a great advantage to everyone to have an atheist prime minister.
Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.
Atheist leaders will be sceptical about the claims of religious groups to be more important than other civil society organisations in doing good, getting public funds, meriting special privileges and exemptions from laws, and having seats in the legislature and legal protection from criticism, satire and challenge.
Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland’s bleak lesson in this regard.
Atheist leaders will, by definition, be neutral between the different religious pressure groups in society, and will have no temptation not to be even-handed because of an allegiance to the outlook of just one of those groups.
An Israeli MP has blamed parliament’s tolerance of gays for earthquakes that have rocked the Holy Land recently.
Shlomo Benizri, of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, said the tremors had been caused by lawmaking that gave “legitimacy to sodomy”.
Israel decriminalised homosexuality in 1988 and has since passed several laws recognising gay rights.
Two earthquakes shook the region last week and a further four struck in November and December.
Mr Benizri made his comments while addressing a committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, about the country’s readiness for earthquakes.
He called on lawmakers to stop “passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes”.