The Rationalist Society of Australia has urged the Tasmanian Premier and Opposition Leader to work in a bipartisan way to replace exclusionary prayer rituals in parliament with something that better reflects the religious and non-religious diversity of the state’s community.
In a letter to Liberal Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Labor leader Rebecca White earlier this month, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig noted that, in the 2021 Census, Tasmania recorded the highest proportion of people identifying as not religious.
Fifty per cent of Tasmanians identify as not religious – a sharp rise from 38.2 per cent recorded in the 2016 Census. South Australia is second for the highest proportion of non-religious people with 45.8 per cent.
“Despite the rich diversity of Tasmania’s religious and non-religious population, which includes significant populations of non-Christian faiths, the houses of the Tasmanian Parliament continue with the practice of imposing Christian prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each day’s proceedings,” Dr Doig wrote.
“Mr Rockliff and Ms White, will you work in a bipartisan way to replace the exclusionary prayer rituals with something that better reflects the religious and non-religious diversity of the Tasmanian community?”
In her letter, Dr Doig noted that Tasmania had at times been a leader in social reform and could now lead on this issue to become the first state parliament to replace prayer rituals with something more inclusive. In the 1990s, the legislative assembly of the Australian Capital Territory replaced prayers with a moment of silent reflection.
Dr Doig told Mr Rockliff and Ms White that the Tasmanian parliament should not favour one religion over other religious and non-religious beliefs.
“The parliament should be the state’s most representative, inclusive and secular institution. The practice of reciting exclusively Christian prayers sends a message that non-Christians and non-religious people are not welcome in the houses of parliament,” she said.
“We believe the Tasmanian Parliament now has a unique opportunity to lead Australia in reforming and modernising its practices to make its parliament more secular, more inclusive and more welcoming of people of all faiths and people of none.”
Momentum is building across Australia for parliaments and local councils to replace prayer rituals with more inclusive practices. For example, a number of councils have replaced prayer rituals in recent years. In the federal parliament, the new President of the Australian Senate, Sue Lines, has said the practice should be changed. In Victoria, the Andrews government has pledged to address the issue following the Victorian election.
Also, in recent weeks about 6,400 people have signed Dr Doig’s petition calling for prayer rituals to be replaced.
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
Image: Jeremy Rockliff (Facebook)