The need to respect non-religious people and ensure separation of church and state were two of the key arguments behind the Clarence Council’s removal of prayers from its formal meetings.
On Monday night, the Tasmanian council, located in the greater Hobart area, voted overwhelmingly – 11 v 1 – to replace prayer rituals with a moment of silence reflection.
In speaking to the motion to replace the non-denominational opening prayer, a number of councillors highlighted the religious and non-religious diversity of their community, and the rapid rise in people identifying as not religious in the Census.
A number of councillors said they identified as not religious or as atheist, and believed that the prayer ritual was no longer appropriate.
Councillor Heather Chong (pictured) moved the original motion to remove the prayer and then hold a consultative process to determine a more appropriate replacement. However, the motion was amended to simple replace the prayer with a three-month trial of a moment of silent reflection.
Describing himself as an “avowed atheist”, Councillor Daniel Hulme said he did not view his work as being “guided by God”. Councillor Jade Darko argued that, as an atheist who was raised Catholic, she felt it was disrespectful for her to be asked to observe a prayer “for a God that I don’t believe in”.
Rationalist Society of Australia president Dr Meredith Doig welcomed the recognition of the rights of non-religious people.
“Elected representatives who are not religious shouldn’t be asked to observe acts of worship as part of doing their job in representing their communities,” she said.
“In making this decision, Clarence Council has sent an important message that the non-religious people who live in its community are included and welcomed in its meetings.
“It’s an example of a government institution taking note of the changing demographics and adapting to them in order to be more reflective of the community’s rich diversity.”
Given that 50 per cent of the Tasmanian population marked ‘no religion’ at the 2021 Census, Dr Doig said more councils and the state parliament needed to follow the lead of Clarence and replace prayer rituals with more secular and inclusive practices.
“We hope to see more elected representatives pushing for this reform in the new year, not just in Tasmania but around the country,” she said.
“Momentum for change is clearly building, with many local governments moving to change their practices. Yet, sadly, state parliaments and the federal parliament continue to impose daily worship requirements in one particular faith tradition.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigl[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Heather Chong (Facebook)