The Rationalist Society of Australia applauds the new President of the Senate, Sue Lines, for making public her principled stand against the recital of Christian prayers at the opening of each day’s proceedings in the Senate.
In her role as President, Senator Lines is required by the Senate’s Standing Orders to read aloud two Christian prayers, one being the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each day (see our video of her reciting the prayers below).
In media reports today she is quoted as saying she personally doesn’t like having to go through the prayer ritual.
“Personally, I would like to see the prayers gone. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say the prayers. If others want to say the prayers they’re open to do that. Personally I would like to see them gone but again it’s not something I can decree. It’s a view of the Senate,” she told The Australian.
“On the one hand, we’ve had almost every parliamentary leader applaud the diversity of the Parliament… so if we are genuine about the diversity of the Parliament, we cannot continue to say a Christian prayer to open the day.”
RSA president Meredith Doig has welcomed the remarks, saying there is momentum building for change. In recent weeks, more than 6,000 Australians have signed Dr Doig’s petition calling for the prayer rituals to be replaced with something more inclusive.
“We applaud President Lines for taking a principled stand on this issue,” said Dr Doig.
“As President Lines has said, if parliamentary leaders are genuine about celebrating the diversity of the parliament, then they should have the integrity to ensure parliamentary procedures reflect that diversity.
“President Lines has said she is an atheist. To force her to recite a prayer that she clearly does not believe is unfair to her personally and brings the whole procedure into disrepute.”
Dr Doig said the House of Representatives should also consider the appropriateness of imposing prayer rituals.
“The practice of reciting the prayer of a particular religion is anachronistic. Some might say it’s just a tradition, but parliamentary traditions should change with the times,” she said.
“Historically, women were banned from standing for parliament, and no-one would now say it’s a tradition that should have been maintained. Similarly, the tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer has outlived its time and it should be replaced with something that can better accommodate our diversity, like a brief period of silence during which members might reflect on their duties to their constituents and to the nation.
“We know there are many non-religious people and many people of non-Christian faiths serving in the House of Representatives. We urge the new Speaker, Milton Dick, to consider replacing the prayer with something more inclusive.”
Dr Doig wrote to Mr Dick and Senator Lines last weekend, urging them to take action on the prayer issue.
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