The Rationalist Society of Australia has urged the re-elected Victorian government to deliver on its promise to replace daily Christian prayer rituals in parliament with a “purpose-built” model that would better reflect the state’s diversity.
In a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes (see letter below), RSA president Meredith Doig has urged the Labor government to introduce secular and more inclusive opening rituals in both houses of parliament.
In August 2021, Attorney-General Symes’ pledged that a re-elected government would, “at the beginning of the next term and as part of the consideration of changes to standing and sessional orders … commit to workshopping a replacement model that is purpose-built for Victoria.”
Dr Doig told Premier Andrews and Attorney-General Symes that it was inappropriate for parliament to ask elected representatives to take part in exclusively Christian worship at the beginning of their work day, noting the major shift in Australians identifying as not religious.
“Victoria’s government institutions should be the most secular and welcoming of all the state’s institutions,” wrote Dr Doig.
“Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer, or any prayer that assumes the existence of a monotheistic god that rules over our human-created institutions, not only privileges one worldview over others but diminishes who we are as a people and a polity – independent and intelligent beings, responsible for and to each other.”
Victoria would become the first state parliament to replace daily prayer rituals with a more secular and inclusive practice, although a number of other state parliaments – including New South Wales and South Australia – could also debate the issue this year.
Momentum is building across the country for government institutions to replace prayer rituals, with a number of local governments having done so in recent years.
She also noted that Victoria’s The Age media outlet had backed the government’s commitment, arguing in an August 2021 editorial that dropping the Lord’s prayer from parliamentary proceedings “would help State Parliament better reflect our diversity”.
More than 6,500 Australians have signed Dr Doig’s petition calling for parliaments and local governments to replace prayer rituals with more inclusive practices.
Image: Daniel Andrews (Department of Defence/Commonwealth of Australia)
Letter to Premier Andrews and Attorney-General Symes, 30 November 2022
Dear Premier Andrews and Attorney-General Symes,
I’m writing on behalf of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Australia’s oldest freethought organisation, advocating reason, evidence-based policy and a genuinely secular state.
Firstly, may we congratulate you on your re-election and the return of a Labor government.
In August 2021, we welcomed the commitment of your government to consider, following the 2022 election, changes to the practice of reciting daily prayers as part of formal parliamentary proceedings. I quote here the Attorney-General, as reported by 7 News:
“A Labor government if re-elected at the beginning of the next term and as part of the consideration of changes to standing and sessional orders will commit to workshopping a replacement model that is purpose-built for Victoria,” she told the Legislative Council.
I urge you now to act on this pledge and to introduce, in both houses of parliament, opening daily rituals that are genuinely secular and therefore more inclusive and welcoming of all Victorians.
The Victorian community is rich in diversity, with people of many faiths and increasingly, of no religious background. The 2021 Census results showed that about 40 per cent of Australians now identify as having no religion – a significant increase from the 32 per cent figure in 2016.
Victoria’s government institutions should be the most secular and welcoming of all the state’s institutions. Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer, or any prayer that assumes the existence of a monotheistic god that rules over our human-created institutions, not only privileges one worldview over others but diminishes who we are as a people and a polity – independent and intelligent beings, responsible for and to each other.
Asking elected representatives to observe an outdated ritual of Christian worship before they can begin their work is inappropriate in modern-day Victoria.
We acknowledge that for some, it’s a practice that is meaningful for them; for others, it represents an obsequious subjection to a non-existent deity; for most, we suspect, it is an empty gesture. Some, who do take it seriously, find themselves unable to be hypocritical enough to remain in the chamber and choose to wait outside. Why should these principled people have to be made to feel like naughty children outside the principal’s office? The continuation of this outdated ritual sends a message to non-Christians and non-religious people that they are not welcome and less than equal in dignity and respect.
Momentum for change is building across the country to replace prayer rituals in government, with an increasing number of local councils already doing so. In Victoria, these councils include Gippsland South Shire, Mornington Peninsula Shire, Macedon Ranges Shire, Gannawarra Shire, City of Greater Bendigo and Mount Alexander Shire Councils. Currently, the Mildura Rural City Council is conducting a community consultation on the matter.
We believe replacing prayers would have the overwhelming support of the Victorian public. We note that The Age newspaper has backed the proposal.
Premier and Attorney-General, we urge you to make the Victorian parliament become the first state parliament in Australia to replace the anachronistic Christian prayer rituals with more secular and inclusive practices that better reflect our proudly diverse community.
You have a renewed mandate and confirmation that Victorians favour progressive policies. We urge you to fulfil the promise you made in August last year when the new parliament reconvenes.
President, Rationalist Society of Australia