Melbourne council halts use of Christian prayer in council meetings

Melbourne council halts use of Christian prayer in council meetings

A Melbourne council has halted the use of Christian prayer in its council meetings after receiving a legal letter stating that including the prayer was unlawful.

The City of Boroondara passed an urgent business motion to remove reference to the prayer, which has been used in council meetings since 1996.

Jennifer Kanis, social justice principal at Maurice Blackburn lawyers, wrote to the council advising that including the prayer was unlawful under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

She argued that the prayer had no connection to the council’s decision-making process and was beyond the powers given to the council by the government.

Kanis has not examined how prayers are written into governance at the estimated 38 Victorian councils still open with Christian prayers but said their use was potentially unlawful.

Boroondara covers the inner-east municipalities of Camberwell, Hawthorn and Kew. Last week’s meeting marked the first time the prayer had been dropped for a meeting. Mayor Felicity Sinfield has previously supported its retention.

Council will start community consultation to determine if the option to read the prayer at meetings should be removed from the governance rules.

“Some councillors from across the local government sector have pointed out that prayers are inconsistent with a changing community in which many people no longer identify as being affiliated with a religion and have the right to be free from any statement with religious references,” the statement said.


Last month, 21 state councillors wrote to the state government calling for guidelines to end Christian prayers in local council meetings, arguing that widespread use of one faith’s prayers was “inconsistent with the multicultural and multi-faith diversity of the communities the council represents”.

If re-elected, the Andrews government 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.

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