The peak body representing Buddhists in New South Wales has urged the Shoalhaven City Council to reconsider its decision to exclude non-Christian faiths from the opening prayer ritual at meetings.
The Buddhist Council of New South Wales yesterday confirmed to the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) that it had written to the mayor and all councillors in a show of support for Councillor Kaye Gartner, a Buddhist who has accused the council of discimination.
In September last year, Councillor Gartner was reciting a Buddhist prayer to open the proceedings when another councillor interjected and said that the opening prayer had to be a Christian one. Later in the meeting, a majority of councillors voted to mandate that only a Christian prayer could be recited.
Buddhist Council of NSW chair Gawaine Powell Davies (pictured) said he had also raised the matter with the state’s Minister for Local Government.
“I wrote to the Shoalhaven council pointing out that Australia is a country with no established religion and many faiths” he told the RSA.
“In the letter, I suggested that the council should be welcoming to people of all faiths and backgrounds. I asked them to reconsider their decision.”
Last month, Councillor Gartner successfully moved a motion calling for Shoalhaven council to seek formal legal advice on the lawfulness of opening formal meetings with exclusively Christian prayer rituals
In the latest twist, three councillors – Greg Watson, Mitchell Pakes and Mark Kitchener – have submitted a rescission motion to block the investigation. The debate on the motion is set for tomorrow night’s meeting.
Bhante Akaliko, a Buddhist monk from New South Wales, told the RSA that he was shocked by the religious-based discrimination at Shoalhaven.
“Australian people have an ethos of friendship, fairness and a fair go for all. So it was truly shocking to hear about Shoalhaven council’s decision to ban any non-Christian prayers before their council meetings,” he said.
“This kind of religious discrimination has no place in our public institutions and should never have been allowed to occur.”
In a letter to Shoalhaven councillors, Bhante said their actions were an abuse of power that contravened the council’s statutory responsibilities and the Local Government Code of Conduct.
“This code states that the council must act in a non-discriminatory manner and ‘must not harass or unlawfully discriminate against others, or support others who harass or unlawfully discriminate against others’ on the grounds of religious affiliation,” he said.
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
Image: Buddhist Council of NSW (Facebook)