The speaker of Australia’s parliament has called for a public debate about whether the country’s lawmakers should end the practice of starting every day of a session with the Lord’s Prayer.
Advocates of changing the parliamentary rules said yesterday that modern Australia has become so multicultural that a Christian prayer no longer represents enough residents for it to remain.
But dumping the reading of the Lord’s Prayer is unlikely to happen any time soon, with the leaders of the two main political parties saying they would not support the idea.
Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, a minor opposition party, wants the prayer replaced by a period of silent reflection.
Meanwhile, independent lawmaker Rob Oakeshott wants each day to begin with a recognition of Aborigines as Australia’s original inhabitants.
Government lawmaker Mike Kelly has also called for changes to the rules.
“I think it’s probably a good thing in a democracy like ours to have symbols and ceremonies that are inclusive of all faiths and all members of the community,” Kelly told Win Television.
Australian lawmakers have started every day of parliament with the Lord’s Prayer for more than a century — a tradition that was inherited from Britain by colonial Australia.
However, some are questioning whether a prayer adopted by the first Australian parliament in 1901 remains relevant in the increasingly secular and religiously diverse nation.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Harry Jenkins told News Ltd newspapers that lawmakers as well as members of the public had repeatedly raised questions about the prayer with him since he took office in February.
He said its future and wording should be the subjects of public debate.
“One of the most controversial aspects of the parliamentary day ... is the prayer,” Jenkins was quoted on Sunday as saying. “On the one end of the spectrum is: Why have a prayer?”
“We have to try to promote this discussion,” he said.
Jenkins declined to be interviewed on the topic yesterday but issued a statement saying that he had “received a wide range of opinions about the opening prayer” and its “relevance ... in modern Australia.”
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said on Sunday that they were in favor of keeping the prayer.
Brown admitted that with the two leaders supporting the prayer, it was unlikely that a majority of legislators would vote in favor of a change.
But as a compromise, Brown said he plans to introduce a motion to the Senate next month calling for 30 seconds of silence to follow the prayer.
The pause would be a “period of reflection” for those who did not want to pray.
“The prayer is said every day and it’s as if no one heard it,” Brown said. “Five minutes later, they’re vilifying each other across the floor.”
Brown failed in 1997 to carry a motion to replace the prayer with a period of silence.
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said that he did not object to the reading of the prayer, but he supported Brown’s proposal as more inclusive.
“There should be an attempt to try and be a little bit more generic and inclusive,” Patel said.
Aborigines and other religions should be acknowledged, Patel said.
“Parliament shouldn’t be seen to be a Christian club,” he said.
There are no Muslims or Aborigines among Australia’s 226 federal lawmakers.
The only two Jewish lawmakers in the Australian parliament, both members of the government, did not return calls yesterday.
The Australian Christian Lobby supported the Lord’s Prayer and dismissed Brown’s proposal.
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