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Melbourne Council Forced To Stop Prayer

by | Mon, Mar 13 2023

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A Melbourne council has stopped using a Christian prayer after receiving a legal letter, claiming it was unlawful.

Boroondara Council which takes in the inner city suburbs of Kew, Hawthorn and Camberwell had been saying the prayer for 27-years.

It asked God “to direct and prosper [council] deliberations to the advancement of Your glory and the true welfare of the people.”

The Age reports that Jennifer Kanis, social justice principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, wrote to the council while acting pro bono for Councillor Victor Franco.

She advised that the inclusion of the prayer in council processes was unlawful under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Because the prayer has no connection to the decision-making process of council, “it is therefore beyond the powers given to council by the government to have a rule that requires that”, Ms. Kanis told The Age.

“It is unlawful in that the charter requires that people have equal and effective protection against discrimination, people have freedom of thought, religion, belief and opportunity and that every person should have that right and opportunity, without discrimination, to participate in the conduct of public affairs,” she explained.

The council responded to her letter by amending governance rules to remove reference to the prayer.

Councillor Franco claimed the use of a single faith’s prayer excluded those of other faiths, and those with none.

“I’m not religious, my family’s not religious … [but] over the past 2½years, I’ve been required to participate in religious rituals at the City of Boroondara,” he told The Age.

“Having prayer shows we are not equal, and our beliefs are less equal. Why should anyone have to pay such a human dignity price, why can’t we just treat each other with equal dignity and respect?,” Councillor Franco queried.

Nearly 40 other Victorian councils still open their meetings with Christian prayers which could also be unlawful.

More than 20 state councillors have called on the Victorian government to ban prayers in local council meetings across the state.

Boroondara Council is obliged to undertake community consultation before deciding whether there is public support and legal grounds to reinstate the prayer.