Prayer plan rejected

A southern Perth council has slapped down a plan by one of its councillors to introduce a prayer at council meetings.

At a meeting on October 13, Cockburn city councillor Chamonix Terblanche moved that the council consider conducting a prayer before council meetings.

Deputy Mayor Carol Reeve-Fowkes was the only councillor to vote in support of the proposition.

The city’s eight other elected officials, including Mayor Logan Howlett, voted against.

Cr Terblanche

Cr Terblanche

At the meeting, Councillor Terblanche described religious people as the “silent majority”, and proposed that one minute be dedicated to a prayer before council meetings.

However, Cr Lyndsey Sweetman, one of the vocal majority of councillors at the meeting, countered that religion should be kept private, and has no relevance to council matters.

“Council should be welcoming to all …,” Cr Sweetman said.

“People should have freedom to withhold from religion.”

Cr Terblanche argued that any prayer would be conducted before the meetings start, not as part of them, so would be kept separate from council deliberations.

She said that councillors who were not religious need not participate, and that prayer was relevant to all religions.

“All state and federal governments in Australia open their parliament with a prayer,” she said.

“It seems fitting that local governments, which are the third tier of government in Australia, should follow suit.”

Eight local councils in Western Australia conduct prayers before or during their meetings: Perth, Kwinana, Joondalup, Wanneroo, Albany, Victoria Park, Stirling and Busselton.

Busselton council is reviewing its standing orders, which may include amending the provision of prayer.

Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said he does not have strong religious beliefs but thinks it is nice to have a moment of “contemplation and quiet” before council meetings.

He said that prayer does not influence the council’s decision-making process.

Joondalup council has included prayer in its standing orders since it was introduced by Mayor Troy Pickard a decade ago.

“Reciting a prayer at the beginning of a council meeting has never been an issue to date and as such there are no plans to change,” Mr Pickard said.

Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington has been on council for 15 years and said prayer was “something traditional that we’ve always done”.

He said it was simply a blessing for the peace and wellbeing of the area.

Victoria Park Mayor Trevor Vaughan said the tradition had never been challenged in his municipality.

“I think if there was a swell to say we don’t want it then we might look at changing it,” he said.

Wanneroo Mayor Tracey Roberts said her council had no plans to change the practice.

Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams said her council’s ‘prayer’ was “not a prayer as such”.

“It’s more an affirmation that we will make decisions in the best interests of our community,” she said.

Stirling Mayor Giovanni Italiano identified prayer before council meetings as a “historical practice”.

“We may not always agree, but respect is paramount at council and respecting others’ views is something we all need to be mindful of from time-to-time,” he said.

The City of Perth was contacted for comment.

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