The South Australian parliament appears set to continue imposing Christian devotional practices as part of its formal proceedings, even though far more South Australians say they have no religion than say they are Christian.
The Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Dan Cregan (pictured), has told the Rationalist Society of Australia that there are “no present plans” to amend the chamber’s Standing Orders, which require the reading of Christian prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each day.
In the 2021 census, the proportion of South Australians identifying as not religious surged to 45.8 per cent, up from 36 per cent in 2016 and above the national result of about 39 per cent for 2021. About 40 per cent of South Australians identify as Christian, while about 8 per cent identify with non-Christian religions.
After the state election earlier this year, RSA’s spokespeople for South Australia, Stella Thomas and Tanya Watkins, asked new Premier Peter Malinauskus and Attorney-General Kyam Maher to address the prayer issue.
In reply, Mr Maher suggested we raise the issue with the presiding officers of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council, as both would be conducting reviews into their standing orders.
The RSA urged Mr Cregan, Speaker of the lower house, and Terry Stephens, President of the upper house, to consider the appropriateness of the prayer ritual in the reviews of their chambers’ respective standing orders.
“As a central pillar of South Australia’s democracy, the parliament should be secular. It should not impose the religious observances of any one particular faith on elected representatives, staff of the parliament, or members of the public,” wrote Ms Thomas and Ms Watkins.
“Reciting Christian-only prayers as part of formal parliament proceedings each day sends the message to non-Christians and non-religious people that the parliament favours one particular faith.
“We believe the practice of reciting exclusively Christian prayers at the start of each sitting day in the House of Assembly and Legislative Council should be replaced with something more inclusive of all South Australians.”
Mr Stephens has not responded to the RSA’s letter, while Mr Cregan indicated that some changes would be made to the standings orders, but he suggested prayer rituals would remain.
“There are no present plans to amend the standing orders in the way proposed, save to incorporate a Welcome to Country (which is presently given but not incorporated into the Standing Orders),” he said.
Ms Thomas and Ms Watkins suggested to the presiding officers that a suitable option could be to follow the lead of the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly and hold a moment of silent reflection instead of the prayer, a practice that allows all members to utilise the time in whatever
More than 6,300 have signed RSA president Dr Meredith Doig’s petition calling for parliaments to replace Christian 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
Image: Dan Cregan – Member for Kavel (Facebook)