By | 13 Dec 2023
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It was in May 2021 when Councillor Victor Franco, who is a Humanist, lodged an objection to the long-standing practice in the City of Boroondara of commencing official Council meetings with a prayer invoking the glory of almighty God. Secular-minded residents banded together to support him.

On Monday 23 October 2023, Council voted, by 9 votes to 1, in favour of removing the prayer from the Council’s governance rules.  There will be no more praying at the opening of Council meetings at Boroondara. 

It means the meetings will be more inclusive and representative. Everyone will be able to participate in the entirety of council meetings without having to participate in the religious rituals of a particular group. And councillors can focus on what they were elected to do.

It took nearly three years to get to this point, two rounds of public consultation with hundreds of submissions. Despite 86% of submissions having called for the removal of prayer, a majority of those councillors supporting the motion made clear their vote was begrudging, because they felt compelled to do so. Lawyers Maurice Blackburn, acting for Councillor Franco, had sent Council a letter in January advising that the prayer was in breach of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. It also said it went beyond the powers of local councils and was not authorized by the Local Government Act.

Secularists hope the decision at Boroondara will prompt other councils in Victoria, that continue to pray at the start of their meetings, to reconsider that practice.

Councillor Franco is set to appear as a guest speaker at the first Secularism Australia Conference, being held in Sydney on Saturday 2 December 2023.

Read further details in The Guardian, 24 October 2023.