Multi-faith openings of council meetings are a good thing


p2062halduellOKI traveled across Java this morning from the north coast to the southern slopes of the island’s central spine of mountains. On the way I sat next to a woman who mentioned often visiting Melbourne. When I asked if she had family or perhaps business there, she told me she was a nun and that her Order maintained convents in Victoria.
She then went on to explain that while Islam is the dominant religion across Indonesia, many Christians live here, as well as do members of other faiths.
I had a chance to witness this later for myself.
When I took an evening walk around this small town’s central square, on one side was a mosque, on another was a Christian church and on a third was a Chinese temple. All three seemed to be busy, while the large grassed central part, easily as big as Traeger Park, was surrounded by food stalls and full of families with young children.
This was a welcome sight in today’s world of confessional polarisation, and I know Indonesia is not without form here. But I do wonder if we in Alice are doing all we can to get on the front foot in promoting religious inclusion and acceptance.
I am thinking especially of how the Alice Springs Town Council’s monthly Open meetings start with an acknowledgment of a higher authority. In the past I know it has been the practice to offer this opening prayer to the town’s various faiths.
I have heard meetings opened by representatives from Islam, Baha’i, and Buddhism as well as more Christian denominations than I ever knew existed. It being many months since I last attended a Council meeting, I wonder if this is still the practice. I hope so.
We have people living in Alice from all around the world. With luck, more are coming and they will be of many faiths. If we want to truly be seen to be welcoming, to be tolerant and not bigoted, what better place to start than with our Council meetings?


  1. I have never seen any credible evidence that would lead me to postulate the existence of a god or gods. Others are entitled to their own views, but surely the best course is to keep private religious views out of public life altogether.

  2. I totally agree with Charlie Carter. This is a community business meeting, not a place for religious chants. We have churches for that.

  3. @ Jo and Charlie Carter:
    But the fact remains that the once-a-month council open meetings are invariably started with all being asked to stand while a prayer or admonition or supplication of some sort is read out.
    My argument is that as long as this is the practice, why not be inclusive of all the faiths held by Alice’s different residents?
    I too am all for the separation of church and state, but ceremony remains.
    Doesn’t each Federal Parliament start with a church service? Does not Welcome-to-Country have overtones of an ancient faith? Is not our monarch also head of the Church of England?
    And yet I see her photo is back on the wall of council’s chambers, and a nod to traditional owners is also part of each meeting’s opening. Are you saying we get rid of all this as well?

  4. I agree with both early posts. Religion should be personal responsibility we are fundamentally Christian based society and we should continue with that. Acknowledgment of other beliefs should be clearly defined as “we recognise other faiths and beliefs” and there it ends.

  5. In a secular country like ours, there is no good reason for opening statements about higher authorities that only some of the population believe in. The separation of state and religion is critical and should be maintained even at local government level.
    If council feels the urge to thank someone, it should thank governments and the people who fund it.

  6. @ Charlie Carter: “I have never seen any credible evidence that would lead me to postulate the existence of a god or gods”. I would like to hear your opinion of how the universe got here, Charlie.
    @ Jo: “religious chants” is a big claim, dismissing the notion of prayer and the many deistic enquiries of art and as Hal Duell notes, the creationist elements of the Dreaming, which is not an atheistic belief system, unlike much of our secular society.
    Regardless, of any movement to have Australia replace the Monarchist elements of government with a Republic, the fact remains that Australia was founded on Christian principles that exist in Common Law.
    Australia may be considered a secular country by some, but our courts preside over an oath sworn on a Christian Bible. There are those who have introduced the Koran as their preferred foundation for belief in a Creator, rather than an evolutionary explanation for existence. Many take the biblical oath as a right of appeal and who is to say that they do so in accord with the so-called separation of church and state?


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