Non-religious councillors told to “suck it up” and observe prayer ritual

Si Gladman / 26 July 2023

The councillor who successfully pushed to have prayer rituals re-imposed as part of formal meetings at the Nillumbik Shire Council in Victoria has told his dissenting colleagues to “suck it up”.

At last night’s council meeting, Councillor Peter Perkins (pictured) won the support of three other colleagues for a motion to rescind the council’s previous adoption of Governance Rules that removed the practice of opening meetings with prayers.

Whereas Mayor Ben Ramcharam had wielded the casting vote following the 3-3 tie on the issue last month, the attendance last night of an additional councillor, Richard Stockman, resulted in a clear 4-3 vote for re-imposing prayers. The council then voted to adopt the Governance Rules with the prayer included.

Following the win, Councillor Perkins, a Catholic, took an apparent dig at the mayor, who had previously raised concerns about non-religious people like himself having to be present during prayers.

“For those that feel uncomfortable in the chamber about sitting down quietly for a couple of minutes and letting someone say a prayer, yeah, you’ll just have to suck it up,” said Councillor Perkins.

Last month, Mayor Ramcharam labelled the practice of reciting prayers as exclusionary and said that, as a non-religious person, he “begrudged” having to “sit here awkwardly” during the ritual.

Last night, Mayor Ramcharam urged his council to move on from the debate and focus on working as a team.

“I’m not going to, in Councillor Perkins’ words, ‘suck it up’ that the prayer is still there. It’s my job as a councillor and especially as mayor to accept whatever decision is made by council… So it’s not about ‘sucking it up’. It’s about honouring the decisions made by myself and my colleagues,” he said.

The council will re-impose religious worship even though 50 per cent of Nillumbik residents are not religious and even though almost all submissions to the public consultation – nine out of 10 – urged council to remove prayers.

In arguing for the return of the prayer, Councillor Perkins said Australia had a Christian calendar and celebrated Christmas and Easter.

“Our holidays are based around that. Yes, almost 50 per cent of Nillumbik residents don’t have a faith but I’m pretty sure they still enjoy Easter and Christmas, and the way of life in Australia,” he said.

Some councillors suggested the removal of prayer could lead to council “cancelling Christmas”.

Councillor Stockman argued that removing prayer would be one step toward “getting rid of freedom of religion”.

Councillors Perkins and Karen Egan, an Anglican, had previously suggested council could move to a multi-faith prayer, although how this would work and whether non-religious people would be unrepresented remained unclear last night.

Across Victoria, a growing number of councillors – currently 38 – are adding their names to a joint letter to the state government, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, among other bodies, opposing the inclusion of prayer rituals in local government meetings and calling for their right to freedom from religion.

Follow the latest developments in our campaign on prayer in government here.

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Photo: Vicki Ward MP for Eltham (Facebook)

All the more reason.