Just prior to leaving the Senate I put forward a motion requesting that the Senate Procedure Committee inquire into a proposal to replace the Christian prayer that is read out by the Senate President at the start of each parliamentary sitting day with a statement that invites all Senators to pray or reflect on their responsibilities as members of parliament. My motion was passed.
This reform is urgently needed to ensure that our parliamentary processes are inclusive of people living in Australia irrespective of their beliefs or faith.
Here are comments from a couple of the submissions. Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Monash University, Luke Beck, wrote: “Federal parliament should not play favourites among religious denominations or between religious citizens.” Professor Beck quotes the 2016 census figures that revealed – 30 per cent of Australians have no religion, 22 per cent are Catholics and 13.3 per cent are Anglicans.
The Feminist Legal Clinic Inc wrote: “ … in order to comply with its international human rights obligations, as well as its own Constitution, the Australian government must accept this proposal and replace the parliamentary prayer as a matter of priority.”
Below is a statement from a number of faith leaders that supported the Greens proposal and my motion to the Senate that called for the current inquiry.
Prayers in Parliament – how we can be inclusive of all faiths
We, the undersigned faith leaders for a range of religions and beliefs, have decided to collectively write to you and all Australian Senators to request that you give careful consideration to how the work of your institution, the Senate, can be more representative of Australian society in the 21st century.
We believe freedom of religion and belief is fundamental to democracy. Australia has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 says:
• Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
• Everyone has the right to manifest their religion and belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, and
• No one will be coerced into, or prevented from, adopting or manifesting a religion or belief
All modern states agree to the requirement that the state itself cannot impose or direct any religious position on its citizens. It must work for religious tolerance, respect for minority beliefs and equality of all beliefs before the law. In other words, a secular state defends human rights and remains strictly separate from any religious institution.
We note that on each sitting day the Senate sits the President opens the proceedings by reading out the following prayer:
Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
While we do support the requirement that at the start of each Senate sitting day all Members of Parliament pause and seriously reflect on their responsibility to the people of Australia, we would like to suggest that Senators consider changing the statement read out at the start of each parliamentary sitting day to be one that is inclusive of all beliefs.
We the undersigned believe that the opening act of each session of parliament should be respectful of our nation’s diversity.
We urge that all members of the Senate consider supporting a statement similar to that which is made at the opening of the sitting of the ACT Legislative Assembly. This statement reads:
Members, at the beginning of this sitting of the Assembly, I would ask you to stand in silence and pray or reflect on our responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.
We believe this statement more accurately reflects the multicultural nature of our diverse communities.
As religious leaders within our respective faiths, we hope that all Senators will give careful consideration to any proposal to change the statement that the President reads at the start of each sitting day.
We wish you well in your deliberations.
This statement is supported by –
- Fr Rod Bower, Anglican Parish of Gosford
- Rev Dr Margaret Mayman of Pitt St Uniting Church
- Tibetan Buddhist Society of Canberra
- Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Temple Emanuel at Woollahra
- Lebanese Muslim Association at Lakemba
- Quakers at Surry Hills