Debate over prayer at City of Kwinana meetings

Debate over prayer at City of Kwinana meetings

THE City of Kwinana has a long tradition of saying a prayer to start its meetings.

Prayer traditionally allows the devoted the opportunity to talk to their gods, but does prayer have a place at a modern council meeting?

Kwinana Catholic Reverend Father Daniel Boyd says yes.

One of Father Boyd’s parishioners even serves as a councillor.

“It is a good thing for people to pray when they are serving others and to seek guidance from god in their decisions,” he said.

“Praying for discernment in making decisions is always a good thing.”

The City of Kwinana has one of the highest rates of people declaring no religion, with 28.8 per cent of residents stating they had no religion. In comparison, 25.1 per cent of Perth said they had no religion.

Vice president of the Athiest Foundation of Australia (AFA) Michael Boyd said prayer should play no part in politics at any level.

“We are a secular nation by virtue of section 116 of our constitution and no government proceedings should invoke any religious approval as this is a breach of the separation of church and state,” he said.

“In most cases it is a Christian god who is prayed to which leads to my second point because we are a nation made up of many diverse faith groups, it is disrespectful and discriminatory towards the minority religious groups who don’t get to have their particular god honoured before meetings.”

Mr Boyd said it could also give cause for people of no religion to question whether issues would be decided in the favour of a religious group.

“Finally, the practice sends the wrong message to rate payers and residents who elected the councillors with a wish that they place the interests of voters above all others,” he said.

“The effect of prayers before council meetings is to convey to voters that the council is prepared to obey some higher power rather than the voters’ wishes.

“And of course, we can never figure out what the higher power actually wants, as there are so many conflicting views about God, even amongst the multiple Christian groups.”

Kwinana Council’s acting chief executive Casey Mihovilovich said the reading of a prayer is a long-standing tradition, which dates back to when Council was a Road Board, more than 50 years ago.

“In many ways it is more of a pledge than a prayer; its purpose to focus council on achieving effective outcomes in the best interest of the Kwinana community,” she said.

“The prayer is apolitical and other than the word Lord is non-denominational.”

According to Mr Boyd said he would support prayers in local government if it actually made councillors behave themselves and consider only the best interests of their ratepayers and residents.

“However, the facts demonstrate over and over again the failure of prayer to modify the egregious conduct of some local councillors,” he said.

“So whilst prayers in local government seem to be reasonably common, the evidence suggests that the act of praying has no impact on the actual performance of councillors.

“The number of councils sacked in NSW and other states because of bad behaviour and corruption suggests that prayer is ineffective in modifying behaviour by some councillors.”

It is the opinion of the AFA that no councillors should be involved in public prayer at council meetings.

“They are; of course, free to pray as much as they like privately, but not in public as part of council proceedings.” Mr Boyd said.

“The AFA maintains that it is unfair to non-believers and non-Christian groups within the local government area that prayers form any part of council meetings or proceedings.”

Mr Boyd is urging Australians to think carefully about their religious beliefs before filling out the census on August 9.

“On August 9, Australians will be asked to declare their religious beliefs on the census,” he said.

“The AFA is urging Australians to think seriously about this question and reflect on whether they are still religious, especially if they’ve had no recent involvement with the religion they were born into, or introduced to at a young age.

“The AFA has begun an outdoor advertising and social media campaign making people aware of the ‘no religion’ option on the census, which has moved to the top of the list of options.”

Similar changes in New Zealand, the UK and Scotland saw the no religion category increase to almost 50 per cent.

“It is possible that this census will show the non-religious category becoming the largest single group in Australia, ahead of Catholics and Anglicans,” he said.

“If this occurs, there is really no excuse for local councils to continue the discriminatory practice of prayers before or during council proceedings.”

Perth councils that pray before a meeting include:

Gosnells

City of Perth

Joondalup

Wanneroo

Councils that do not pray:

Mandurah

Murray

Cottesloe

Claremont

Peppermint Grove

Mosman Park

Melville