A Tasmanian mayor who removed prayer rituals from the official proceedings of her council’s meetings has faced a tirade from a fellow councillor who warned that she would “be judged”.
Late last month, retiring Central Coast Council mayor Jan Bonde dropped the Christian prayer from the opening of meetings, deciding instead to begin proceedings with an Acknowledgement of Country.
In response, Councillor Tony Van Rooyen told Mayor Bonde that she owed the council and the community an explanation for deleting “any reference in our agenda to our Christian culture.”
Mayor Bonde explained that the decision had been made in discussions with other councillors.
Councillor Van Rooyen responded: “That’s pretty weak. And you will be judged by this – for this decision.”
He also complained that prayers had been removed while the Acknowledgement of Country had expanded from a two-line statement to a ‘chapter’
“The old story of, ‘Only 40 per cent of the people in this country are Christian, I would remind you that only 15 per cent of the population are of Aboriginal ancestry. So that argument does not hold water,” he said.
In The Advocate newspaper, Councillor Van Rooyen said he was not against the Acknowledgement of Country, but was upset about the removal of prayers.
“They carry on about inclusiveness in council, as long as it’s not Christians. I’m not a flag-waving Christian at all,” he said.
Central Coast Council, taking in Ulverstone and surrounding areas on Tasmania’s north coast, is holding an election for a new council this month.
Mayor Bonde, who is not re-contesting, told last month’s meeting that the issue of including prayers in official proceedings would be a matter for the new council.
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 the state’s parliament with something that better reflects the religious and non-religious diversity of the community.
In the 2021 Census, Tasmania recorded the highest proportion of people identifying as not religious – at 50 per cent.
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.
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