The Wagga Wagga City Council has voted in favour of replacing Christian prayers with a moment of reflection to open its meetings.
The 5-3 decision at tonight’s council meeting settles a long-running debate over the issue within the regional New South Wales council, with the issue having been previously debated in 2019.
Responding to tonight’s decision, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig welcomed the outcome as “an important win for secularism” and said the council’s decision gave further momentum for change in state and federal parliaments.
“This is an important win for secularism. Our government institutions should be secular and welcoming of all people. They should not favour one particular faith,” said Dr Doig.
“The change will modernise the council’s meetings and make them much more reflective and more inclusive of all members of the diverse community of Wagga Wagga.
“The Wagga Wagga council provides a good example for our federal MPs and senators to now pursue a similar change in the national parliament, and for state parliaments to do the same.
“There is momentum building across the country for local governments and state and federal parliaments to replace prayer rituals with practices that are more reflective of the community. Wagga Wagga council is to be congratulated for being part of this movement.”
The council voted in favour of the reflection as part of adopting a new Code of Meeting Practice. At the opening of future meetings, the mayor will say: “Councillors, let us in silence reflect upon our responsibilities to the community which we represent, and to all future generations and faithfully, and impartially, carry out the functions, powers, authorities and discretions vested in us, to the best of our skill and judgement.”
In advocating for the change in practice, Councillor Dan Hayes said that the reflection would allow all people from Wagga Wagga’s diverse community to participate
“Wagga is diverse in many ways, including those of various faiths and cultural backgrounds, and the growing population of atheists and non-practising believers. Council, I think, should reflect that, and this is one small way to do it,” he said.
“It is about making more room for people… What is being proposed allows all people who have faith to participate, as well as those who do not. I think prayer is too important to be reduced to a symbolic gesture or spoken by those who may not believe it purely because it’s listed on the agenda in the Code of Meeting Practice.”
In also speaking in favour of switching to a reflection, Councillor Rod Kendall said he was concerned that prayer rituals had the potential to exclude members of the community from participating in meetings. Councillor Amelia Parkins said adopting the reflection was a way to celebrate the diversity of the whole community.
Councillor Richard Foley raised his concerns about the lawfulness of council imposing prayers as part of its formal business, pointing to peer-reviewed legal analysis – by Associate Professor Luke Beck – that concluded that the practice of many Australian local councils of incorporating prayers into their formal meetings was unlawful.
Wagga Wagga follows the Shoalhaven council in becoming the latest to replace prayer rituals with more inclusive practices.
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
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash