South Australian upper house member Robert Simms has told the state parliament there is a growing “mood for change” across the country to replace prayer rituals with more inclusive practices in the daily proceedings of parliaments.
In a speech to the Legislative Council this week, Mr Simms (pictured), of the Greens, said the tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of each day was “an anachronism that serves no democratic purpose”.
Mr Simms argued that the prayer rituals were not reflective of the state’s diversity, pointing out that the latest Census figures showed that almost 46 per cent of South Australians identify as non-religious and almost eight per cent identify with non-Christian religions.
“As well as being out of step with community opinion, the practice fails to reflect the diversity of this parliament itself. Parliament, like society, should respect various faiths and various perspectives,” he said.
“Why, as an atheist, should I be required to recite a prayer that does not reflect my values or reflect my worldview?
“Other jurisdictions around Australia have considered secular pledges or statements as alternatives that cause members of parliament to reflect on our vital role – a role that is fundamental to our democracy.”
Mr Simms said the growing mood for change across Australia was evident in how numerous local governments had acted on the issue recently and how his Greens colleagues in New South Wales were also pushing for change. He also noted that a Change.org petition – launched mid year by Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig – had attracted more than 6,000 signatures.
Mr Simms pledged that he would pursue the issue in the current term of parliament, finishing his speech by urging his colleagues to “watch this space”.
Replacing the prayer with something more inclusive would require majority support for a motion to change the Standing Orders – the rules that govern proceedings in the parliament.
Soon after the state election earlier this year, the RSA wrote to the presiding officers of the two houses of the South Australian Parliament to urge them to address the prayer issue.
While President of the upper house Terry Stephens did not respond, Speaker of the House of Assembly Dan Cregan told the RSA there were “no present plans” to amend the chamber’s Standing Orders relating to prayers.
In September, new Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas successfully moved a motion making changes to the Standing Orders to formally include an Acknowledgement of Country and Traditional Owners as part of the opening ritual. However, Christian prayers remained.
Among the speeches to that motion, Labor representative Michael Brown said it was “right and just and appropriate” that the parliament continued to recite Christian prayers.
Deputy Leader Susan Close said while prayers did not mean anything personally to her she listened to the prayers each day “out of respect for the role that Christianity has played in the heritage of our Western culture and its importance to many people who sit in this parliament”.
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