Prayer issue shows parliament has ‘long way to go’ on inclusion, says NSW upper house member
Dr Amanda Cohn, a new member of the New South Wales upper house who has Jewish heritage, has questioned the practice of reciting Christian prayers to open each parliamentary day and suggested the parliament must become more inclusive.
In her first speech to the Legislative Council late last month, Dr Amanda Cohn revealed that her paternal grandparents had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust as Jewish teenagers in Germany to start a new life in Australia.
She warned against rising neo-Nazism in Australia and also said her family’s story had taught her the danger of an “us versus them” mentality.
The Greens’ representative argued that the practice of reciting daily Christian prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, showed that the state parliament needed to do more as an institution to become more inclusive.
“We have a long way to go for this institution to be as inclusive and representative as it should be,” Dr Cohn said.
“I wonder how my grandparents would feel to know that their granddaughter is expected to stand, every morning, in this notionally secular public institution while those around her recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison.”
The prayer issue could soon be debated on the floor of the Legislative Council, with a proposal for a committee inquiry currently on the Notice Paper and the parliament in session for the last two weeks of June.
In May, the Rationalist Society of Australia reported that Greens upper house member Abigail Boyd wanted the Procedure Committee to inquire into the appropriateness of opening the Legislative Council each day with the recital of exclusively Christian prayers.
Ms Boyd’s motion asks for the committee to consider alternatives to prayers, including: a) replacing the Lord’s Prayer with a minute’s silence for prayer and reflection; b) replacing the Lord’s Prayer with prayers from a number of different religions, to be recited either together each day or in turn on separate days; c) replacing the Lord’s Prayer with a secular reflection on members’ responsibility to the people of New South Wales; d) the abolition of the Lord’s Prayer, without replacing the reading of the Lord’s Prayer with an alternative practice.
In May, the state’s new multicultural minister Steve Kamper told the RSA that the prayer issue would be “a matter for the Parliament” to decide.
The RSA is calling for the Minns government to replace daily Christian worship in both houses of parliament with secular and more inclusive practices that reflect the diversity of the New South Wales public. In Victoria, the Andrews government has promised to replace prayers with something “purpose-built” for the state.