Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Freedom of religion wins in Whanganui

The Whanganui District Council has abolished its opening prayer. Good. As I noted when this issue was first raised last year, councils (and Parliament) having formal opening prayers effectively hijacks a state body to endorse the private religious views of its members. It sends a clear message to those who don't share those views that it is not their council and that they are not real members of the community - a point Whanganui's Christian councillors would grasp if it was a black mass or Muslim call to prayer being held before every meeting.

As for the compromise of a separate, informal prayer session before meetings, that's perfectly reasonable. What councillors do on their own time is their own business. The problem isn't that they pray; its that they hijack a body which should be religiously neutral to do so.

Whanganui took this action to avoid a costly court case after mediation by the Human Rights Commission failed. Which raises the question: who's next? Other councils - and Parliament - are endorsing particular religions this way. Every single one of them is open to the same challenge on the same principles. The question now is whether they follow Whanganui and do away with their prayers voluntarily - or whether it will take a formal complaint to do so.

[Hat-tip: Atheist Bus Campaign]