Both the houses of the Tasmania Parliament (in Australia), the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, have turned down requests to have Hindu opening-prayer in one of their sessions.
On taking the Chair each day, Tasmania House of Assembly Speaker and Legislative Council President recite/read the prayers. Lord’s Prayer, a well-known prayer in Christianity, has reportedly been read in the House of Assembly since 1930.
Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed had email exchanges on the prayer request with Leonie Hiscutt, Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council; and Shane Donnelly, Clerk of the House of Assembly.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and who requested that he be scheduled to read opening-prayer in one each of the sessions of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council and received the denials; feels that it is simply a case of blatant unfairness, exclusionary attitude, discrimination; and does not speak well of a democratic society.
Adherents of minority religions and non-believers, who had made a lot of contributions to Tasmania and Australia and continued to do so and paid their share of the taxes, thus felt left out by this monopoly on prayer. Not allowing prayers of minority religions in the Parliament seemed like efforts at belittling these faiths under government patronage; Rajan Zed pointed out in a statement today.
Democratic governments should not be in the business of promoting one religion and excluding others and non-believers and thus infringing upon the human rights of minority religions and non-believers; Zed, who has opened both the United States Senate and US House of Representatives in Washington DC with Hindu prayers, emphasized.
Rajan Zed further said that Standing Orders handling the prayer in the Tasmania House of Assembly and the Legislative Council needed to be urgently changed as we were well into 21st century and Tasmania was much more religiously diverse now.
Zed suggested that it was time for the Tasmania Parliament to move to multi-faith opening prayers. Since Tasmania Parliament represented every Tasmanian irrespective of religion/denomination/non-belief, it would be quite befitting in this increasingly diverse state to do a rotation of prayers representing major religions and indigenous spirituality and including slots for thoughts of non-believers.
Rajan Zed was of the view that existence of different religions was an evident symbol of God’s generosity and munificence. Tasmania Parliament should quest for a unity that hailed diversity.
According to the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, Tasmania’s first parliament was established in 1825, second oldest in Australia. Mark David Shelton is Speaker of the House of Assembly, which has 25 members; while Craig Maxwell Farrell is President of the Legislative Council, which has 15 members.
Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about 1.2 billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal.