Acting Premier defends Tasmanian Parliament’s practice of reciting prayers

Si Gladman / 24 October 2022

The Tasmanian Parliament appears set to continue imposing Christian worship at the opening of daily proceedings, despite 50 per cent of Tasmanians saying they are not religious.

In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia, Acting Premier Michael Ferguson (pictured) defended the parliament’s current model of inviting members to either stand in silence or join in the recital of the Lord’s Prayer.

“In 2018, the Tasmanian Parliament agreed to a motion, put by our government, which changed proceedings at the start of each sitting day to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as traditional and original owners and continuing custodians of this land, and inviting Members to either join in the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer or to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of Tasmania,” Mr Ferguson said.

“This was an historic updating of the Tasmanian Parliament and provides for a modern rendering of the Parliamentary prayer.”

RSA president Meredith Doig said it was disappointing that the Tasmanian Parliament would continue to privilege one particular religion. 

“Asking some people to stand in silence while reading aloud Christian prayers is not ‘modernising’ – it’s just playing games,” Dr Doig said.

“The Tasmanian parliament should be secular and should not play favourites in privileging one particular religion over others.

“The Tasmanian community is made up of a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds, now with a majority consciously identifying as not religious, and others following a range of religions. The Tasmanian parliament should respect them all and modernise its proceedings to accommodate this diversity.”

In September, the RSA wrote to Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Labor leader Rebecca White to urge them to work together to replace prayer rituals with something more inclusive and reflective of the state’s diversity.

In that letter, Dr Doig noted the latest Census results, which showed 50 per cent of Tasmanians identify as not religious – a sharp rise from 38.2 per cent recorded in the 2016 Census. 

She told the Premier and Opposition Leader that the Tasmanian parliament had a unique opportunity to lead Australia in modernising its practices to make its parliament “more secular, more inclusive and more welcoming of people of all faiths and people of none.”

The federal parliament and each state and territory parliament, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory, continue to recite exclusively Christian prayers at the opening of each sitting day. The Victorian government has, however, pledged to address the issue if re-elected at the November election.

Join our RSA Webinar on Wednesday 26 October when New South Wales MLC Abigail Boyd and Mildura councillor Jodi Reynolds speak on the topic, ‘Replacing prayer rituals: The push for more welcoming institutions’. Register here.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Image: Michael Ferguson (Facebook)

All the more reason.