A mayor whose council recently replaced Christian prayer recitals with a brief period of reflection at the opening of its meetings would like to see other local, state and federal parliaments follow suit.
In an interview with The Secular Agenda podcast (listen here), Mayor Amanda Findley of the Shoalhaven City Council, located on the New South Wales south coast, said the model of opening meetings with a moment of silent reflection promoted inclusion.
At the council’s first meeting this year, the newly elected Shoalhaven council voted in favour of replacing the opening Christian prayer with a moment of silent reflection, ending years of division about the prayer ritual.
She said she would like to see the “same opportunity taken” in the new federal parliament and in the New South Wales parliament following next year’s state election.
“Shoalhaven City Council had taken the whole issue of the prayer to an extreme and had mandated that the prayer be a Christian prayer, which, of course, excludes an enormous number of people within our community,” she said.
“Not only does it exclude those from different religious backgrounds, but it also excludes people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever. And there’s many, many more of those every time Australia has a census result.”
Mayor Findley said a brief period of silent reflection was an ideal way to bring elected representatives “into the moment” as they begin their work.
“I like [the model] on a number of levels. It gives you like a step forward to modernity. It brings you into a modern space, because a lot of people can identify with a moment’s worth of reflection.
“It’s like a stepped approach because it’s not doing away with reflection altogether. It’s not taking away from the contemplation that a prayer time would give. It actually gives everyone the opportunity to look inwardly and do that in however way they feel works for them.”
The new episode of The Secular Agenda also features former Shoalhaven councillor Kaye Gartner, who had driven the push for the prayer ritual to be replaced with a more inclusive practice.
In 2020, a conservative councillor interrupted Cr Gartner, a Buddhist, while she attempted to recite a Buddhist prayer at the opening of a meeting. Later in the same meeting, a conservative bloc of councillors successfully moved a motion that only Christian prayers could be recited at future meetings.
In the interview earlier this year, following the new council’s decision to replace the prayer ritual, Gartner said she also wished to see the model of silent reflection adopted more widely in Australian governments.
“I wholeheartedly will continue the campaign to have the religious-based prayer system removed from our systems of government. It doesn’t belong there,” she said.
“What belongs in our systems of government is an acknowledgement that we are all free and different, and that we may have different ways of expressing the best of our humanity. And let us do that together in silent reflection. Let’s leave nobody out. Let’s include everybody in the decision-making processes of our great nation.”
If you agree that local governments and state and federal parliaments should replace prayer rituals with more inclusive practices, please add your name to this petition.
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
Photo: Shoalhaven City Council