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To pray, or not to pray

Clarence Valley’s councillors have voted to “reaffirm [the council’s] position of holding an opening prayer in the order of business within the Code of Meeting Practice”. It has been common practice to open each council meeting with a prayer since Clarence Valley Council (CVC) was created in 2004; however, it was not a part of the code of meeting practice. At the April council meeting, Cr Greg Clancy put a motion to “cancel the current program of prayers at Council meetings”; however, his motion was opposed by all other councillors. Instead, councillors decided to amend the code of meeting practice to officially include an opening prayer at council meetings. In addition to this, councillors decided to invite ministers from the Lower Clarence and Grafton ministers associations to nominate ministers to open council meetings – this is not included in the code of meeting practice; it is a councillor decision. At last week’s council meeting there was no mention of religions, other than those encompassed in the April decision, being formally invited to say the prayer. However, the mayor, Jim Simmons, said that delivery of the prayer was “open to all denominations” and Cr Peter Ellem said he was “open to people of non Christian faiths coming in and giving us a prayer”. One of the 24 submissions to the amended code of meeting practice addressed this issue, stating that if a prayer is to commence each meeting, “that the other gods … are paid homage to in the Clarence, including that of Judaism, Islam, Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Krishna, Satanism, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism, Church of the flying spaghetti monster only to mention a few”. The public made 24 submissions on the subject: 11 against having a prayer and 13 in support. “A desktop review of the Code of Meeting Practice of a number of councils has indicated a range of practices,” the report to council stated. “Councils are either silent on the topic, have an actual prayer imbedded in the Code of Meeting Practice or have a prayer included in the order of business. “The NSW Office of Local Government advised that it is open to Council to determine if it wished to include a prayer in its order of business.” Debate on the matter took some time, around 20 minutes. Councillor Andrew Baker said “this self serving subject [to not have a prayer] gets no support from me” and pointed out that the prayer usually only takes one or two minutes, 11 times a year. “We’ve wasted more than the next 10 years of one to two minutes per meeting on this matter already; thankyou Cr Clancy,” he said. In his debate on the subject, Cr Clancy said he did not oppose “people practising their own form of religion, whatever it may be”. He said he was challenging whether or not a council meeting “is the appropriate place for such a ceremony”. “Having a prayer is discriminatory and puts me and other non-believers in an uncomfortable position,” he said. “I have been taught good manners by my parents and my teachers, including brothers and nuns at Catholic schools, so I don’t like being discourteous to the minister each month, but I will not join in a prayer to a god that I don’t believe in. “Please do not impose it on me and other non-believers.” Seven other councillors disagreed.