A Melbourne council has paused the use of a Christian prayer asking God to direct it after receiving a legal letter stating its inclusion in council processes was unlawful. Source: The Age.
An urgent business motion was passed by the City of Boroondara last week to amend governance rules to remove reference to the prayer, which asks God to “direct and prosper [council’s] deliberations to the advancement of your glory and the true welfare of the people”.
Jennifer Kanis, social justice principal at Maurice Blackburn lawyers, wrote to the council this year, advising that the inclusion of the prayer was unlawful under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
The prayer also has no connection to the decision-making process of council and “it is therefore beyond the powers given to council by the government to have a rule that requires that”, Ms Kanis said.
“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. Ms Kanis, who acted pro bono for Boroondara councillor Victor Franco, has not examined the ways in which prayers are written into governance at the estimated 38 Victorian councils still opening with Christian prayers, but said their use was also potentially unlawful.
Boroondara, which covers the inner east municipalities of Camberwell, Hawthorn and Kew, has included prayer in council meetings since 1996.
Last month, 21 state councillors wrote to the Victorian Government calling for guidelines to end Christian prayers in local council meetings, arguing widespread use of one faith’s prayers was “inconsistent with the multicultural and multi-faith diversity of the communities the council represents”.
The Andrews Government has promised to discontinue the Lord’s Prayer as part of the opening of parliamentary sittings. The prayer has been used on sitting days since 1918.
Gone Almighty: Council halts Christian prayer after legal warning (By Wendy Tuohy, The Age)