Redland council’s new mayor wants change on Christian sermons in meetings

Si Gladman / 02 May 2024

The Redland City Council’s practice of opening its meetings with several minutes of Christian sermon and prayer may be about to come to an end, with the Queensland council’s new mayor vowing to pursue reform.

Mayor Jos Mitchell (pictured), who was elected to the role in March, has told the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) that she has raised her concerns within council about the ‘Devotional Segment’ at the opening of meetings.

For a number of years, the Redland council under former mayor Karen Williams ignored community calls for reform of the council’s practice of inviting only Christian preachers to open meetings with sermons and prayers that typically lasted about five minutes and, on occasion, reached 10 minutes.

In early 2023, the RSA raised human rights concerns with the Redland City Council’s chief executive and asked the Queensland Human Rights Commission to investigate the breach of anti-discrimination laws.

Following the election of the new council this year, the RSA wrote to Mayor Mitchell and her colleagues to urge them to adopt a more inclusive and secular practice to allow all councillors and others in attendance to participate equally.

In response, Mayor Mitchell told the RSA she had raised the issue with her colleagues and argued that, if the opening segment were to continue, it should reflect the diversity of the Redland community.

“While I would personally prefer separation between church and state, I understand the importance of the segment to other councillors and members of our community,” she said.

“Last week, I asked my office to provide me with the current list of providers of the devotional segment with a view to broadening the list.

“I will be calling for a review of our meeting Standing Orders.”

Redland council’s Standing Orders provide for “an invited person [to lead] the local government in a brief devotional segment”. Yet, in practice, the council has limited this to Christian ministers.

The RSA told councillors that the practice of inviting only Christian ministers amounted to religious discrimination contrary to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and was incompatible with human rights under the Human Rights Act 2019.

The RSA also said it was unlawful on the grounds that including religious rituals as a part of council meetings was not authorised by Queensland’s Local Government Act 2009.

In leading these Devotional Segments, Christian preachers have: 

  • brought the “leaders of council” to God;
  • called on councillors to “reflect upon the Lord Jesus”;
  • prayed for “travelling mercies” for a councillor who was about to begin her holidays;
  • asked for Jesus to release “healing power” over a councillor who had “the sniffles”;
  • prayed to Jesus to help a gentleman in the room who was “keeping a financial secret from his wife”; 
  • “committed” councillors and even members of the public gallery to God;
  • made references to “the Evil One”;
  • and suggested it would be a good thing to run the council based on the Bible.

At the new council’s first meeting in April, a Pentecostal pastor from C3 Church sermonised for five minutes.

Councils that impose prayer rituals in their meetings are increasingly – especially in Victoria – taking note of human rights implications

The Rationalist Society of Australia is actively lobbying and advocating for prayer rituals to be replaced with more appropriate practices in councils and parliaments. See the latest updates here.

Si Gladman is Executive Director for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast

Image: Mayor Jos Mitchell (Facebook)

All the more reason.