Peak body for Victoria’s local governments set to consider directive on prayer

Si Gladman / 03 May 2023

Victoria’s peak body representing local governments will this month deliberate on whether to support a call for all councils across the state to remove prayer rituals from their formal meetings.

The City of Yarra council has submitted a motion to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) asking that the MAV agree to take action on the prayer issue when the body holds its upcoming State Council on 19 May.

The State Council – the governing body of the MAV comprising delegates from each member local council – will vote on the following motion:

That the Municipal Association of Victoria write to member Councils advising that the MAV supports the removal of prayer from Council meetings, on the grounds that a Council prayer no longer reflects community expectations, is not inclusive and may be unlawful.

The development follows the joint action in January by 21 councillors from across Victoria who, in an open letter to the MAV, the Victorian government, human rights bodies and others, asked for help to remove prayer rituals from council meetings.

The joint letter said council meetings should be welcoming for all and argued that “freedom of religion necessarily includes freedom from religion”.

At a meeting in March, City of Yarra councillor Bridgid O’Brien, who was among the councillors dubbed the ‘Victorian 21’, was instrumental in having her council unanimously support putting a motion to the MAV.

In providing a rationale for the motion, City of Yarra council said that starting meetings with single-faith prayers was “inconsistent with the multicultural and multi-faith diversity of the communities that councils represent”.

“Further, the requirement in many Governance Rules that Councillors, staff and members of the public participate in a religious ceremony in order to discharge their duties is both inappropriate and potentially inconsistent with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act,” the council said.

The RSA understand that at least 38 councils in Victoria maintain prayer rituals at the opening of their meetings.

Victoria’s Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes, has committed to removing prayer rituals from the houses of the Victorian parliament.

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