Cockburn councillor left without a prayer in bid to introduce prayer to meetings

Cockburn councillor left without a prayer in bid to introduce prayer to meetings

Chamonix Terblanche
Chamonix Terblanche

THE councillor behind a bid to have an opening prayer introduced into Cockburn council meetings says she may revisit the proposal in the future.

Earlier this month, East ward councillor Chamonix Terblanche called for an “apolitical and non-denominational prayer” to be introduced prior to council meetings.

Cr Terblanche, who is of Christian faith, found little support from her fellow councillors, with her recommendation voted down.

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But last week she said she had not closed the door on following up on the proposal given the figures in a report presented to council.

“I might address it in time again, yes,” she said.

“As per the officer’s report, the fact that it is a growing trend shows that more and more Cockburnians are becoming religious and as such believe this need would become even more prevalent based on that.”

In August, Cr Terblanche requested a report into prayer provisions at local government council meetings.

That report, presented for councillors to consider at the October ordinary council meeting, found 67.4 per cent of the Cockburn population identified with a religion, while 24.4 per cent said they had no religion.

“As such, in a democratic society it would make sense that our council’s actions should reflect those of the majority of the population, especially where there is an increase in religious people in Cockburn,” Cr Terblanche said at the meeting.

“A non-denominational prayer will allow different religious councillors to all participate. Non-religious councillors could simply show respect to those with religion and allow one minute before each meeting for prayer.”

West ward councillor Lyndsey Sweetman disagreed, saying religious observance was a private matter and there would be no benefit to local government decision making in mandating a prayer before meetings.

“Council meetings should be conducted in a matter that is equally welcoming to all attendees regardless of their individual beliefs or lack of beliefs,” she said.

“Allowing religious observance to be imposed in a secular environment is not compatible with genuine commitment to religious freedom, which includes freedom from religion if one chooses.”

She said the proposal put forward by Cr Terblanche implied councillors were “beholden to a higher authority than that of our elected office and that of the residents and ratepayers we represent and serve”.

“I don’t agree with this at all. I feel I make decisions off my own back,” she said.

“In no way does the absence of prayer in the formal business of our meeting impede the religious freedom of any councillor or deny anybody the right to pray.”