The Australian Greens are gunning for God. They want the Lord’s Prayer dumped from the opening of the federal parliament’s daily sittings. Like many social progressives, the Greens hate the idea of religion, particularly if it shows its face in public.
Greens Senator Richard Di Natale says public prayer violates the constitutional separation of church and state and is outmoded in a multicultural society. But the good senator is wrong on both counts.
First, the custom of daily prayers was introduced in 1901 only under Standing Orders after religious leaders had lobbied for daily acknowledgement of our dependence on God. No law was ever passed to impose a religious observance, so prayers in federal parliament are not unconstitutional.
Second, the 2011 census showed that the vast majority of Australians – nearly 80% of us – believe in some sort of higher power. Far from being outmoded in a multicultural society, religion is becoming more important to 21st century Australians. The number of us with no faith whatsoever is well under a quarter of the population – just 22% in 2011, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Like all social progressives, the Greens think they know best — even when their views are clearly out of step with the majority of Australians. Of course, religion is a matter of individual conscience. As long as they obey the laws that apply to everyone, people must be completely free to believe whatever they choose — whether it’s belief in a divine being or that the moon is made of cheese. That is what freedom of religion means.
The Australian Constitution already has ample protections to prevent religious belief from ever being imposed by the state. Yet religious faith is part of the rock on which our Constitution was built. From the start, the founders of our country stated in the Preamble that they “humbly” relied on “the blessing of Almighty God.”
Despite howls of outrage from social progressives who want to kick religion out of public life, Cory Bernardi is right when he says that faith and politics go hand. “Politics is about people, the societies they form and how best to help them thrive,” says Bernardi. “It’s essentially about relationships.” Many Australians from all cultural and religious backgrounds believe there are forces greater than us at work in the universe. The prayers, read by the Speaker, ask God to keep our politicians focused on “the true welfare of the people of Australia” as they set about making laws for the rest of us. Our lawmakers do well to spend a moment or two in humble reflection on our welfare before they go about their important work.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.” He could have been talking about the Greens.
If Senator Di Natale is serious about ensuring the Parliament reflects our pluralist society, he should acknowledge the importance of religion. And he should back down from his demand to scrap daily prayers for our politicians.
Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies