There is no place for prayer and other sundry religious observances in government, according to Moira Clarke, executive member of the Secular Party of Australia.

“We like to assume that all three levels of government aim to represent our diverse Australian community,” said Ms Clarke. “Not so! We have Christian prayers at the opening of Parliament, and around half of South Australian councils (*) conduct prayers before or during meetings.”

Last December, Cr Doriana Coppola of Charles Sturt Council put forward a proposal that prayer be removed from the pledge before Council meetings. There has been stiff opposition from the local churches, and the matter is to be decided at a meeting on May 13th.

“Figures from the 2011 Census show us that religion, in particular Christianity, is in decline,” said Ms Clarke. “How, then, can any government body claim to faithfully represent its entire community if it insists on pledging allegiance to a faith not shared by all its members? Such behaviour also implies that councillors are beholden to a higher authority than that of their elected office. This violates every principle of church-state separation, and flies in the face of democracy itself.”

Ms Clarke added that Charles Sturt Council was essentially forcing any non-Christian or irreligious Councillor to partake in Christian rituals. “This is discriminatory,” she said. “We are supposed to enjoy freedom of religion in this country. All Australian Christians are free to go to church and practise their faith and, indeed, pray quietly to themselves during Council meetings if they wish. But in this case they’re simply imposing their own religious ceremonies on others. That’s the opposite of freedom.”

Ms Clarke noted that with so many thousands of different belief systems around the world, and with 28% of South Australians marking “No religion” on the 2011 Census form, it is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to come up with some sort of prayer that is inclusive of everyone. “At the end of the day, religious observances in government are not only unnecessary, they are inappropriate in the 21st century,” she concluded. “Secular government is really the only way to ensure a fair go for all Australians.”

May 7, 2013