A Melbourne council has cancelled its traditional Christian prayer from meetings after lawyers complained it was in breach of human rights law. The City of Boroondara voted by nine to one to stop reading the prayer at the start of its meetings, following a community consultation process.
The council which takes in the inner city suburbs of Kew, Hawthorn and Camberwell had been saying the prayer for 27-years.
It had read: Almighty God, we humbly seek your blessings upon this council. Direct and prosper its deliberations to the advancement of your glory and the true welfare of the people of the City of Boroondara. Amen.
Councillor Jim Parke who voted for the motion but had no personal objection to the prayer told the AAP news agency some found the decades-old tradition “insidious” and in need of “erasure” adding that: “Those frightfully offensive words apparently have no place in this chamber. It’s funny when you consider what’s happening on the world stage as we speak that people can find such reason to be outraged and appalled and need to scurry off to lawyers and the like. But there you have it, that’s the reality of 2023. People actively seek out reasons to be offended.”
Councillor Victor Franco who describes himself as a non-believer has been campaigning for the prayer’s removal. He told AAP it was not a matter of causing offence, but rather the separation of church and state. “Boroondara council is not a church. We need to focus on what we were elected to do, namely our roles and responsibilities as defined by the Local Government Act. It’s about our meetings being inclusive and welcoming for all. Something that when we have an official prayer, they are not and have not been,” he said.
Principal lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, Jennifer Kanis, wrote to the council on Councillor Franco’s behalf earlier this year, claiming the prayer was an unlawful breach of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. She welcomed the council’s decision to scrap it, saying: “We hope this decision by Boroondara will prompt other councils who still recite a prayer at the start of their meetings to review how they operate.”
More than 20 state councillors have called on the Victorian government to ban prayers in local council meetings across the state. The Australian Christian Lobby has expressed disappointment over the Boroondara council’s decision.
Victoria’s Attorney General, Jaclyn Symes, promised Labor would workshop a replacement for the Lord’s Prayer in state parliament if it was re-elected last year, but AAP reports that so far the century-old tradition remains.
With Australian Associated Press