Councillor Victor Franco is calling on the public to help him replace exclusionary Christian prayers with something more inclusive to open meetings at the Boroondara Council in Victoria.
The non-religious councillor, who last week branded the council as unwelcoming for imposing “acts of Christian worship”, told the Rationalist Society of Australia yesterday that public support was now needed to make the change.
With the council’s Governance Rules currently open for public consultation, the residents and ratepayers of the Boroondara Council area, located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, can have their say on the issue. People living outside the council area can also make submissions.
Public submissions can be made to the council before Friday 25 June 2021. For information about how to make a submission, visit the council’s website here.
Councillor Franco is also encouraging people to share their views in emails to all councillors (you can find their email addresses here).
In defending the use of a Christian prayer to open meetings, some councillors have argued that they have never received a complaint about it.
“I find that surprising. They’ve said that nobody in the community cares, nobody in the community is offended, the community hasn’t got any interest in this issue, and that I’m the one whipping up division and fomenting discord because I’ve raised it,” said Councillor Franco.
“Hopefully, enough people out there may think this is an issue and a concern, and hopefully will raise it themselves.
“If enough people make submissions, it will be clear to my colleagues the concern the community has in respect to the approach that council has to enforcing prayer. And, hopefully, my colleagues might then be more understanding of the impact that their actions are having and realise that it’s not something that can be ignored.”
While the Governance Rules say that council ‘may’ have a prayer and does not specify the text of the prayer, in practice every council meeting starts with a Christian prayer.
The Boroondara Council area is one of the least religious in Australia, with 37% of citizens in the 2016 Census self-identifying as being non-religious – 7% above the national figure.
Only 45.9% of people in Boroondara identify as Christian, compared to 52.1% across the nation.
Councillor Franco said his colleagues on the council needed to respect the views of non-Christian and non-religious people.
“One of my colleagues said to me that it’s very important to have the prayer because it reminds us that we’re here for a higher purpose. But the reality is: I’m not here for a higher purpose. I’m not here to advance the glory of God, as our prayer makes clear. That’s not what I’m here for,” he said.
“I’m only here for what the majority of my colleagues probably consider as the lowly purpose of acting in the best interest of residents and ratepayers of Boroondara. That’s why I stood for election and that’s the commitment I gave.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman