Bid to overturn ‘prayer’ decision


DEFINITIONS of a prayer and a pledge have become part of the ongoing debate following the December decision by a majority of Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors to amend the wording of the prayer said before council meetings.

While the word “prayer” remains as part of the council’s Governance Rules adopted in August 2020, the words recited at the start of each council meeting  begin with “We pledge that this council…”.

The decision to not change the wording of the rules followed advice from the shire’s in-house lawyer Amanda Sapolu, who said “the form of prayer is not prescribed” in the rules and it was up to council to choose the wording (“God purged from council ‘prayer’” The News 15/12/20).

If councillors had decided to substitute “pledge” for “prayer” in the Governance Rules they could not have avoided seeking community approval.

At next week’s council meeting (Tuesday 9 February) Crs Antonella Celi and Hugh Fraser will try to overturn the December decision to scrap the council prayer.

Cr Fraser, a barrister, will argue that a “pledge” is not a “prayer” and the council had amended the Governance Rules which can only be done by seeking community approval.

Cr Celi will move that council review the wording of the Prayer (which started with “we pledge…”).

She says the adopted pledge was suggested by Cr Anthony Marsh “without community engagement or consultation,  thereby excluding the community from being given an opportunity to provide formal feedback and input into the wording of the Prayer which in effect has now become a Pledge”.

All dictionary definitions of “prayer” found by The News include a reference to “God”, as in “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity” or “a devout petition to God or an object of worship”.

A “pledge” is mostly described as “a solemn promise or agreement to do or refrain from doing something: a pledge of aid; a pledge not to wage war”.

Cr David Gill said the “shallow” decision to drop the prayer had been made “by newly-elected councillors to avoid public consultation”.

He said all of the new councillors had, during their election campaigns, criticised the former council for not consulting the public.

After the 8 December meeting Cr Celi said the thrust of the debate at the meeting was not about the removal of God from the prayer, but the lack of community consultation and engagement on what was an ingrained community issue.

“Not one of the councillors was elected on a mandate to make this change,” Cr Celi said. “I am most concerned about the precedent for future decisions. What’s the next thing that will be changed without community consultation?”

The decision to change the wording of the council prayer was supported by Crs Marsh, Paul Mercurio, Sarah Race, Lisa Dixon, Kerri McCafferty and the mayor Despi O’Connor. Against: Crs David Gill, Steve Holland, Fraser, Debra Mar and Celi.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News- 2 February 2021


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