A Tasmanian council that represents a majority non-religious population has ignored the pleas of two councillors who wanted council to remove Christian prayers from its formal meetings.
Late last month, Burnie City Council voted 5-2 to reject a motion to remove prayers after the council’s General Manager warned that a decision not to include a Christian prayer would “likely be very controversial within our community”.
Councillor Trent Aitken argued that, as a multicultural society, council meetings needed to be inclusive of everyone.
“Right off the bat I will say a council meeting is the only meeting I attend where I have to sit through a prayer,” he said in his speech to the motion.
“I have previously stated that the prayer is only inclusive of Christians… As someone who is not religious, it is certainly not inclusive of myself or people who I have had discussions with around the issue.
“…times have changed, and we are a multicultural society that needs to be inclusive of everyone, including those who are not religious.”
Councillor Ken Dorsey supported the motion, having also previously asked council to remove prayer rituals.
In a briefing for the meeting’s agenda, General Manager Simon Overland said the move would likely be controversial and recommended that council should conduct “extensive consultation with the community” to determine if there was general support for the proposal and, if so, what changes should be made.
However, ABS data shows that almost 58 per cent of Burnie’s population marked ‘no religion’ or another secular belief, such as ‘atheism’, at the 2021 Census. Another 6.7 per cent did not state any religious affiliation.
Last month, the local newspaper published an editorial saying that prayers should not be part of council meetings.
In recent years, a number of councils in Tasmania – the country’s least religious state – have removed prayers or replaced them with practices that better reflect their communities. These councils include Clarence, Central Coast Council, and Glenorchy.
After rejecting Councillor Aitken’s motion, Burnie City Council voted overwhelmingly to establish an interfaith and multi-faith network to “foster social inclusion and collaborative community relationships.”
The Rationalist Society of Australia is actively lobbying and advocating for prayer rituals to be replaced with more appropriate practices in councils and parliaments. See the latest updates here.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.