The push to replace a Christian prayer with a more inclusive opening ritual at Boroondara Council meetings is gathering momentum, with the community throwing its support behind Councillor Victor Franco.
Members of the public and community groups, including the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), flooded the Victorian council with 115 submissions opposing the inclusion of a prayer recital as part of official government proceedings.
In comparison, 59 submissions in favour of retaining the prayer were lodged during the consultation period.
The submissions are detailed in a council report now available on the Boroondara Council website.
The surge in public support for Councillor Franco’s proposal for a more inclusive opening ritual raises pressure on his fellow councillors, many of whom previously argued that there was no community desire for change.
The council will now consider the public feedback at its Services Committee meeting at Camberwell Town Hall on Monday 12 July, with a number of submitters invited to present their case to councillors.
RSA president Meredith Doig is among those invited to speak to the committee.
At a meeting of council in May, Councillor Franco (pictured) unsuccessfully moved a motion to remove reference to the prayer from the council’s Governance Rules.
In an impassioned speech, he argued that council was not a church and that it was inappropriate for council to make it part of the job of councillors to “participate in an act of Christian worship”.
Yesterday, he told the RSA that the community’s response had been pleasing.
“Clearly, there is a public desire for Boroondara Council to become a more welcoming and inclusive place for people of all faiths and for people like me who are not religious,” he said.
“We are a diverse community. It’s now time for our council to catch up and to better reflect the people we serve.”
A final decision on whether to continue to impose the prayer is expected to be made later this month.
At the 2016 Census, 37% of residents in the council in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs area indicated they were not religious.
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