Prayers and Politics Polarise People
“Christian tradition” is an outdated excuse for retaining prayers at all meetings of Charles Sturt Council. That’s the position taken by Adelaide’s newest organisation campaigning to take religion out of government.
Charles Sturt Council meets next Monday to vote on the question of whether or not to retain prayers at the start of each meeting — and it’s an issue gripping not only local residents but also a flood of proponents for secularism.
“There are sound reasons for claiming that prayer is divisive — particularly within such a diverse cultural, ethnic and political mix that exists in Australia today,” says Brian Morris, president of Atheism SA Inc.
“The population is gradually turning away from the religious self-righteousness that expects all people to obey and worship a supernatural deity; and it’s a dated notion still fostered by governments, the judiciary and sections of the media.”
“The 2011 census showed conclusively that 28% of South Australians have ‘no religion’ and we know from decades of anecdotal evidence that at least another 30% have never practiced the religion they were taught as a child.”
On this “belief” issue Mr Morris pointed to a failure of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and their 5-yearly national census.
He said the mere framing of the census question was misleading — asking citizens to “state their religion”, and almost implying that to be without “faith” was somehow un-Australian.
Placing the “No Religion” option last also leads respondents to opt for the denomination they were urged (or indoctrinated) to follow in childhood — it’s a natural human reaction, “to be part of a tribe”, Mr Morris said.
“Religion itself is divisive, even within the separate monotheistic faiths — Catholics and Protestants have had their blood feud going back 500 years, so too between Sunni and Shia, and Jewish sub-sects have been in conflict for three millennia.”
“Why do we persist with these contrived supernatural deities when our Constitution makes it crystal clear that Australia is a secular country?” Mr Morris said.
He referred to Section 116 of the Australian Constitution that states; ‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance . . .’
He said, “The key words, ‘imposing any religious observance’, are critical — and for those saying it’s purely a Commonwealth document, not relevant to this State, I’d say they have missed entirely the inherent message.”
The Council prayer currently reads: “Almighty Father from Whom all goodness flows, grant unto us qualities of wisdom, justice and tolerance, that we the civic leaders of this community may govern in harmony and concord. This we ask in Thy name. Amen.”
“In all respects, an appeal to an imagined “almighty” deity in the 21st century is quite startling.”
“If Councillors — in ALL Councils throughout South Australia — are unable to carry out their tasks, guided by the basic tenets of secular-humanism, then they ought not to be Councillors,” Mr Morris concluded.
Contract: Brian Morris, President, Atheism SA inc.