Faith leaders demand Victorian Parliament continues to impose Christian prayers

Si Gladman / 21 May 2024

Religious leaders in Victoria are demanding that the state parliament continue to impose Christian prayers at the opening of each sitting day, claiming that “a majority of Victorians…believe in God or a Higher Power other than themselves”.

In a letter circulated on social media and dated 10 May 2024, Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli and Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier were among the faith leaders who argued that the Lord’s Prayer provided a “strong reminder” for MPs that parliament “is not the ultimate authority”.

It has been more than 1,000 days since the Victorian Labor government promised to replace the prayer ritual with something more reflective and appropriate for Victoria’s diverse community.

Early this year, after the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) wrote to all Labor MPs and minor parties, Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes acknowledged she had “an unmet commitment” in regards to removing the daily prayers.

The Liberal Party, however, has since vowed to “fiercely oppose” any attempt to remove daily Christian prayers from the state parliament.

In February, the RSA revealed that at least one-third of members of parliament were boycotting the daily prayer.

Three other faith leaders – Islamic leader Sheikh Muhammad Nawas Saleem, Jewish leader Rabbi Ralph Genende and Hindu leader Shri Makarand Bhagwat – added their support to the letter.

“For more than 100 years, the Victorian Parliament – along with Parliaments across Australia – have commenced Parliamentary sitting days with prayer. This short time of prayer, embodies the deep contribution thousands have made to our democracy and its institutions. It is a strong reminder that Parliament is not the ultimate authority for building a just and caring society,” the letter said.

The letter claimed that the parliament should “respect the beliefs” of the majority of Victorians.

According to 2021 Census data – which used a biased question that inflated the religion result because it presumed all people had a religion – only 54 per cent of the Victorian population identified with a religion, including only 40 per cent for Christianity.

At the next Census in 2026, the total proportion identifying as religious is likely to fall below 50 per cent, while Victorians marking ‘No religion’ is set to surge past 40 per cent. Christianity’s dramatic decline is expected to continue, falling to between 30-40 per cent.

“The Lord’s Prayer…is a simple prayer – commonly held across traditions. It represents a call to our community to honour God, so as to love and serve others before ourselves,” the faith leaders wrote.

“Parliamentarians do not recite the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament because it is a workplace, but rather, because it is an action of public acknowledgment of their responsible service to the people of Victoria.

“As leaders of faith communities, we urge you, as an elected representative of the people of Victoria, to recognise the valuable role of prayer in Parliament and ensure its practice continues to play an integral part of our democracy tradition.”

Victoria’s religious leaders have been among those leading the push, over a number of years, for federal ‘religious freedom’ laws that would have privileged the rights of religious people over non-religious citizens.

Image: Screenshot, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli (Facebook)

All the more reason.