After the Surf Coast Shire Council voted 8 to 1 on Tuesday night in favour of replacing the Christian prayer that traditionally opened Council meetings with a secular pledge, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) released an official response on Friday to address what it perceives as intolerance. The Lobby's Victorian Director, Dan Flynn, expressed his disappointment in a decision that turns the Council's back on "Australia's cultural heritage" and an important societal contribution.
Although the tradition of opening council meetings with a Christian prayer is maintained in the nearby Colac Otway and Golden Plains shiresâwhile the City of Geelong only acknowledges the Aboriginal owners of the landâthe proposal was introduced by Councillor Heather Wellington as part of a larger reform package that seeks to create a "modern" and "inclusive" local government organisation. Ms Wellington explained to the media:
"I think it's wrong to impose prayer on anybody ... I have a great difficulty assuming that all our councillors, at all times, now and in the future, will be comfortable praying to any God ... A pledge is much more in position with what we're doing".
Ms Wellington was supported by the Mayor of the Shire, Margot Smith, who also commended the Council's performance ban on circuses with caged animals for its consistency with a modern perspective. Both of the motions that were passed on Tuesday were presented as representative of a council that is modern and able to keep up with a changing world.
But not everyone sees eye-to-eye with the supporters of Tuesday's decision. Even though Ms Smith insisted that the shelving of the Christian-prayer tradition "wasn't about rejecting religion", and maintained that religious members are encouraged to practice their faith in their private lives, Mr Flynn called the prayer rejection a clear example of intolerance because it implies that "people of faith should keep their opinions to themselves".
The ACL was not the only voice of opposition this week, as the sole councillor who voted against Ms Smith's proposal, Mr Rod Nockles, called the change "disrespectful" in his comments to the Geelong Advertiser. Torquay parish priest Father Linh Tran also spoke to the local newspaper, and concluded with a knowledgeable insight into the significance of prayer:
"Prayer unites us and unites our thoughts and makes us be a bit more open and listen and be humbled ... If it doesn't do anything else it pauses us and makes us aware of ourselves and makes us aware of the gift of wisdom."
Through its media release, the ACL calls upon the Surf Coast Shire Council to abandon intolerance and reconsider its stance on the role of Christian prayer in the Council's practice. The ACL refutes that religion and prayer do not belong in the civil lives of Australians.