The Clarence City Council located in the greater Hobart area is tonight scheduled to vote on a proposal to remove Christian prayers from its formal meetings and pursue a more inclusive replacement.
Councillor Heather Chong has placed on the meeting agenda the following motion: “That Council remove the opening prayer from the beginning of Council meetings and, over the next few months, consider whether a more inclusive affirmation or reflective silence is appropriate.”
The RSA understands that the newly elected council may be more favourable to supporting such a motion. If the motion were to pass, Clarence would join a growing list of councils across Australia deciding to replace Christian prayer rituals with more inclusive and secular practices.
Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig has welcomed the proposal at Clarence council.
“This motion is indicative of the momentum for change that is building across the country for local governments and state and federal parliaments to replace prayer rituals with practices that better reflect the religious and non-religious diversity of the Australian community,” she said.
The RSA has also been calling on the Tasmanian parliament to make similar changes and has written directly to party leaders and a number of MPs.
In October, the then Acting Premier Michael Ferguson defended the parliament’s current practice of requiring elected representatives observe the daily recital of Christian prayers before they can begin their work.
“Our government institutions should be secular and should not play favourites in privileging one particular religion over others,” said Dr Doig.
“The Tasmanian community is made up of a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds, now with a majority consciously identifying as not religious, and others following a range of religions. All local councils and the Tasmanian parliament should respect that diversity and modernise their practices.”
The issue of prayer rituals has also become a hot topic at councils in Queensland and in New South Wales. Last month, the Randwick Council rejected councillor Kym Chappell’s motion to replace the prayer with a minute of reflection.
“Suggesting we adhere to traditions from 1859 where these are no longer relevant to more than a third of our community is bizarre” Councillor Chappell had argued.
At the Fraser Coast Council, Councillor David Lewis has proposed broadening the Christian prayer to allow people of multiple faiths and also of non-religious backgrounds to say “inspirational” words of wisdom.
The Courier Mail reported that a number of councillors at the Fraser Coast are evangelical Christians who believe Australia is founded on Judaeo-Christian values.
Councils that have replaced prayer rituals with more inclusive practices this year include Shoalhaven and Wagga Wagga councils in New South Wales, Gippsland South Shire Council in Victoria, and Central Coast Council in Tasmania.
More than 6,500 people have sign Dr Doig’s petition calling on parliaments and councils to replace prayers 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