Di Catto, Rene Harris, Reverend John McKim and Bishop Bill Ray.
Di Catto, Rene Harris, Reverend John McKim and Bishop Bill Ray. contributed

"Why does our Parliament favour Christians over others?"

A MACKAY priest has emphasised the importance in giving politicians time to reflect on moral values, after a petition was launched calling for religious prayers to be ruled out of parliament.

The petition, which is currently open on the state parliament website, claimed that prayers during parliament were effectively imposing the beliefs of one religion in an elected public forum, compromising government impartiality.

It goes on to ask "why parliament publicly favour christian over non-christian religions?"

But rather than imposing religious faith, Mackay Anglican cluster priest John McKim believed the prayer was an important way of reminding political leaders of values and responsibilities.

"I think in any religious group there's always that sense of being accountable and being a person worthy of the office you hold," Rev McKim said.

"I think when we lose those values we lose the sense of who we are and who we're accountable to."

He indicated it made sense for Christian prayers to be read, rather than another religion, since Christianity was the most popular and longest standing religion in the country.

While he said another religious group may feel marginalised if another was allowed to constantly dominate, he pointed out the traditions and history linked to Christianity in Australia also needed to be considered.

"I suppose at some stage if we allow one religious group to dominate I think at any stage another religious group would feel marginalised but I'd probably still go back to the fact that we are predominately a Christian nation so therefore those values and principals have held us in good stead for as long as we've been here," he said.

Alluding to the lack of moral character shown by a raft of politicians claiming thousands of taxpayer dollars in entitlements recently, Rev McKim indicated it would be better to incorporate prayers from another religion rather than doing away with all prayers in parliament entirely.

"From my point of view I'd say Christian prayers (would be preferable), but I'd say prayers offered in any organisation provide a good balance for any group, and I think particularly for our politicians," Rev McKim said.

"Often that's been demonstrated I think by some of the things that have been broadcast recently. Gaining advantage through rorting systems is not about benefiting or serving other people it's about the serving of self. And that would be against any religious principle I believe."

The push to do away with prayers in parliament comes at a time when religion has found itself at the centre of a number of political issues, particularly debate about refugee resettlement.

Central Queensland communities, most recently the North Burnett, have told political leaders that while they would be open to accepting refugees, they would need to be of Christian faith.

But Mr McKim did not agree.

"I think every person has something to offer our community, whether they're Christian or not," he said.

"And I'm not sure that we should exclude people on the basis of their religious affiliation."

Although the petition was put to state parliament, the Lord's Prayer is also recited before Mackay Regional Council meetings.

While deputy mayor Amanda Camm said all council meetings held during her term had been preceded by a Christian prayer, recited by volunteers, she would "absolutely welcome" a group of another faith to come and give a blessing.

She said she would be open to further discussions on the matter, but believed it was tradition that had seen the Christian prayer take centre stage in the past.

But state speaker Peter Wellington saw no reason to change the current practise.

He originally opted to read the Lord's prayer before parliament because the speaker before him had.

"If I thought it wasn't appropriate I wouldn't do it. But I intend to continue," Mr Wellington said.

"You can never please everyone."

Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen also believed retaining the Christian prayer was important, and believed those petitioning for it to be ruled out were just looking for attention.

"Our heritage, our laws and the majority belief in this country is Christian, so it's only fitting we open each day of parliament with prayer, particularly the Lord's Prayer" he said. 

"Every year, the Greens or some other fringe-dwelling group propose to ditch parliamentary prayers to get a bit of media. Perhaps they'll only be satisfied if we open parliament with a Wiccan ceremony or a prayer to Mother Earth." 

The petition was tabled by West End resident Frank Jordan.

The petition:

"Queensland residents draws to the attention of the House that a prayer is recited during Parliament.

  • The Queensland Constitution does not state that Queensland is a Christian state.
  • Our secular system of government requires separation of church and state.
  • Prayers during Parliament are imposing the beliefs of one religion in an elected public forum. This compromises government impartiality.
  • Taxpayers don't expect to pay elected representatives to say prayers during Parliament.
  • A Christian prayer may be inappropriate to MPs, parliamentary staff and citizens of other faiths, or none.
  • Census results show the decrease of Christianity and an increase of non-Christian religions in Australia. Why does Parliament publicly favour Christian over non-Christian religions?
  • Census results show increasing numbers of Australians have no religion. Only 5% of Australians regularly attend church services and less than 30% of weddings are performed in churches.
  • The Canadian Supreme Court in 2015 ruled unanimously that Saguenay Council reciting a prayer during official meetings is unlawful. The judgement said the state must "remain neutral" in matters of religious belief. 

"This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief."

Your petitioners therefore request the House to remove religious prayers from all parliamentary business thereby confirming government impartiality in matters of religious belief."

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