Having exclusively Christian prayers at the opening of Gold Coast council meetings is a direct breach of the council’s own ‘inclusion and diversity’ statement and must be removed, says the Rationalist Society of Australia.
At each full meeting of the Gold Coast council, Mayor Tom Tate recites a Christian prayer that calls for the “Heavenly Father” to provide a guiding hand “for we who seek to serve you”.
In recent days, Mayor Tate has not answered questions from the RSA and from Gold Coast media outlets about whether he supports the fundamentalist Seven Mountains Mandate – a claim made by his spiritual advisor.
“My views on various religious beliefs are entirely irrelevant as I will always make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the majority of residents. I have done that through my 10 years as Mayor and nothing will ever change that,” Mayor Tate was quoted in the Gold Coast Bulletin recently.
RSA president Meredith Doig said the imposition of prayer rituals as part of formal government meetings demonstrated the Gold Coast council’s disregard for the principle of separation of church and state.
She said the practice would make many councillors, council staff members and members of the Gold Coast community feel uncomfortable and excluded from participation in what should be an institution that welcomes and respects people of all beliefs, whether religious or non-religious.
The Gold Coast council’s own website states that the council is committed to promoting inclusion and diversity. The statement says: “Inclusion and diversity are more than just words at City of Gold Coast. We celebrate an inclusive workplace culture that promotes and values diversity. Our employees feel empowered to share their experiences and ideas. At the City of Gold Coast, we see all forms of diversity as real value for the City and a reflection of our community.”
In the 2016 Census, just 53.4% of Gold Coast citizens identified as Christian, while 42% were either not religious or chose not to state a religious affiliation. The 2021 Census results – expected to be released in the middle of this year – could well show the percentage of Gold Coast ratepayers identifying Christian fall to below half for the first time.
Dr Doig said the RSA would directly contact Gold Coast councillors to urge them to replace the prayer with a more inclusive practice, such as a period of quiet reflection on their duties.
She noted that councillor Glenn Tozer, in responding to the controversy over Mayor Tate’s appointment of Pastor Sue Baynes as an advisor, had said Gold Coast ratepayers “definitely don’t have to believe in God” to make a positive contribution to the local community.
“Councils should not have official favourite religions. By conducting a Christian prayer ritual that ignores other faiths and people of no faith, it seems promoting inclusion and diversity are merely just words for the City of Gold Coast.” Dr Doig said.
“Councillors should ensure what they say in words is reflected by what they do in practice. They should remove the preferencing of Christian prayers in meetings.
“I urge Gold Coast ratepayers who care about the principle of church-state separation to contact their local councillors to ask that the council matches words with deeds when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and removes the practice of imposing one religion’s prayer ritual in their council meetings.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Images: City of Gold Coast