Christian prayer rituals in government institutions are excluding many people and forcing some elected representatives to wait outside while the prayers are being recited, the latest RSA webinar has heard.
At Wednesday’s webinar, New South Wales upper house member Abigail Boyd and Victorian councillor Jodi Reynolds said the imposition of prayers in their respective government institutions made many people feel uncomfortable and excluded.
Ms Boyd (pictured) revealed that she joins other colleagues in waiting outside the Legislative Council while the daily prayers are being read.
“I found myself waiting outside while the prayer was read with some other ungodly few and then having to scurry in to get in before the Acknowledgement of Country was read out. And when I mentioned this to my friends, they were gobsmacked that this practice occurred in a parliament that’s supposed to represent us all,” she said.
She said the parliament needed to do more to welcome diversity and make people feel included.
Earlier this month, Ms Boyd placed a motion of the Notice Paper to replace the Lord’s Prayer with a moment of silent reflection. She said it was unclear whether the motion would be debated during this current parliament.
“I’d think we’d have close to half in favour of the prayer and half that aren’t in favour. I think a great number of them aren’t prepared to have the battle. There are quite a lot of religious MPs,” she said.
“I do think, though, that the parliament is wildly disproportionate when you look at the number of very religious politicians we have, both Labor and Liberal, compared to the population. And that worries me.
“It’s one of the reasons I feel very strongly about this, because there are so many politicians in New South Wales who want Christianity to be the norm in politics. And I think that’s fundamentally anti-democratic.”
Councillor Reynolds said the recital of Christian prayers at Mildura Rural City Council put up barriers to people of diverse faith and non-faith backgrounds participating in council meetings and representing their community.
“I could imagine that someone who comes from a different religion or a different background would find it really uncomfortable if they had to stand and dedicate themselves to those words before a council meeting,” she said.
“We’re a really diverse community up here… We’d like to make sure that we make this place as welcoming as possible for these people and they feel part of the community.”
Late last month, Councillor Reynolds successfully moved that the Mildura council develop a more inclusive affirmation for the council to consider adopting as part of the opening proceedings for its meetings.
She said the council could develop some options and present them to the community before making a decision.
At the webinar, former Shoalhaven councillor Kaye Gartner shared insights into her council’s journey of replacing Christian prayers with a moment of silent reflection.
Also, constitutional law expert Professor Luke Beck talked about his peer-reviewed legal analysis, published last year in the Alternative Law Journal, that argued the recital of prayers in local government was unlawful.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman