For many of us the imposition of Christian prayers in public situations is a problem. I personally feel offended whenever this is imposed on me. In this day and age, and in this multicultural, ideologically diverse society, such offensive actions should not be tolerated. If we can refuse to tolerate smoking in public places (while still accepting it in the privacy of one’s own personal environment) why can’t we refuse to tolerate the imposition of public prayers.
This is an issue in our Parliament and for some local body councils. Therefore I was interested to see this report in Te Korowai Whakapono. This is the newsletter of the Interfaith Network which is facilitated by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.
Affirmation to open council meetings
The Hurunui District Council has voted to do away with its prayer at the start of meetings. Council meetings always began with the CEO reading out the following prayer:
We ask you to bless those present and grant through our discussions and decisions we may solve our problems effectively, and act with integrity
and courage to enhance the well being of our district.
Councillors voted 5-4 to do away with the prayer and replace it with a non-religious affirmation, followed by a period of silence for prayer or reflection by councillors. The decision followed a complaint by Cr Russell Black in October to the Human Rights Commission. He said he would withdraw his complaint to the Human Rights Commission if a “tolerant and respectful” solution could be found. Black said he had tolerated the prayer for several years out of respect but had felt uncomfortable. “We swear an oath at the start of our term and abide by it. We do not need to reinforce it monthly,” he said.
Cr Judy Meikle said she could “live with a pledge”, but it would be with regret. Cr Andrew Smart said he was saddened at the time taken to resolve the issue when there were pressing needs for district residents such as the drought. He sought a change of wording in the prayer but said he would support an affirmation. Cr Michael Malthus said he was a religious man but could live with an affirmation, provided there was a period of silence for him to give thanks to “whoever”. Cr Wendy Doody sought to retain the prayer.
It is all about toleration and respect.
And it is about time.
Secular alternatives to religious communities
Religious diversity and human rights
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Atheism and religious diversity II: A personal perspective
Atheism and religious diversity III: Conflict between science and religion
Atheism and religious diversity IV: Values, morality and spirituality
Thank God or Thank Goodness?
“Let us pray . . . “
Christian prayer problems