Buddhist leader backs Fiona Patten’s push for a more inclusive ritual in Victorian parliament

Si Gladman / 03 August 2021

A leading Buddhist has thrown her support behind Victorian upper house MP Fiona Patten’s push to have a Christian prayer replaced with something more inclusive at the opening of each parliamentary sitting day.

Speaking at an event hosted by Patten on Friday, Dr Diana Cousens (pictured), a member of the Buddhist Council of Victoria’s committee of management, said the recital of the Lord’s Prayer in the parliament was alienating for many members of society.

“I have no criticism of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s just about the context. It’s not an appropriate thing for a secular state to somehow have the imprimatur of a specific religion at the start of the day every day,” she said.

“We have to look at the secularisation of Australia, and these implicit structures, which are unquestioned, represent the fusion of church and state in a way that is not articulated in our constitution.”

Patten, the leader of the Reason Party in the state’s Legislative Council, is expected to move a motion in the house tomorrow to replace the prayer ritual with a moment of silent reflection.

Her A Parliament For All campaign argues that the practice of reciting Christian prayer does not represent the range of beliefs in Australia’s most diverse state, which is home to hundreds of religions and a growing number of non-religious people.

When Patten raised the issue in 2019, Premier Dan Andrews suggested that a “multi-faith moment” would be more reflective of modern Victoria.

Dr Cousens said the imposition of a Christian prayer had the potential to make people of minority faiths feel unwelcome.

“I asked some Jewish friends about how they felt about it, and they felt alienated and humiliated. And I said, ‘Why haven’t you people ever made a noise?’ and they said it was because of fear of reprisals,” she said. 

“For me, it’s a policy problem. But, for some people, it has a really deep emotional content – alienation, humiliation and fear of reprisals. That is something quite scary. I think we underestimate what this means to the wider community.”

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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

All the more reason.