Boroondara Council has decided to ignore public opinion and continue imposing Christian prayers as part of its meetings.
Last night, the council voted 9-2 in favour of adopting the proposed Governance Rules, which include the prayer ritual as Rule 18A. Only councillors Victor Franco and Susan Biggar voted against the Governance Rules.
As a result, the Victorian council will continue to recite Christian prayers at the opening of its meetings, even though 37% of its citizens do not have a religion and 8% have a religion other than Christianity, according to the 2016 census.
The decision was taken despite overwhelming community support for Councillor Franco’s call for the “act of Christian worship” to be replaced with something more welcoming and inclusive.
In the public consultation process, two in three (66%) submissions made to the council opposed the inclusion of the prayer ritual.
Earlier in the year, a number of councillors rejected the calls to replace the prayer with something more inclusive because, as they argued, no-one in the community had ever raised it as an issue.
In a report submitted to the council for Monday night’s meeting, council officers suggested that removing the prayer could be a breach of religious freedom.
“The reciting of the prayer is discretionary and it is up to the particular individual whether they wish to participate or not. It is for this reason that officers do not believe that the inclusion of Rule 18A is a human rights issue,” the report said.
“Further, an equal argument exists that actively removing the ability to commence proceedings with a Council Prayer could be incompatible with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities as it then prevents freedom of religion and freedom of speech for those who believe in the Council Prayer.”
“At present the courts have made no determination on whether the commencement of proceedings with the Council Prayer is illegal. It is however, important to note that the practice does not invalidate the business transacted during the Council meeting.”
In May, Councillor Franco argued that the practice of local councils incorporating prayers into their formal meetings was potentially unlawful.
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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman