CANBERRA, Australia – The speaker of Australia's Parliament has called for a public debate about whether the country's lawmakers should end the practice of starting each session with the Lord's Prayer.
Lawmakers have started every day of Parliament with the Christian prayer for more than a century — a tradition inherited from Britain during colonial rule.
But some are now questioning whether a prayer adopted by the first Australian Parliament in 1901 remains relevant in an increasingly secular and religiously diverse nation.
Dumping the prayer is unlikely to happen any time soon, though, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday said they wanted to keep the prayer.
More than 65 percent of Australians still identify as Christians, and there are no Muslims or Aborigines among Australia's 226 federal lawmakers. The only two Jewish lawmakers, both members of the government, did not return calls by The Associated Press on Monday.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Harry Jenkins told News Ltd. newspapers that lawmakers and members of the public had repeatedly raised the issue with him since he took office in February.
"One of the most controversial aspects of the parliamentary day ... is the prayer," Jenkins was quoted on Sunday as saying. "On the one end of the spectrum is: Why have a prayer?"
Jenkins declined to be interviewed Monday but issued a statement saying he had "received a wide range of opinions about the opening prayer" and its relevance "in modern Australia."
Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, a minor opposition party, wants the prayer replaced by a period of silent reflection, while independent lawmaker Rob Oakeshott wants each day to begin with a recognition of Aborigines as Australia's original inhabitants.
Brown failed in 1997 to replace the prayer with a period of silence. He has said he plans to propose 30 seconds of silence after the prayer, as a "period of reflection" for those who did not want to pray.
Ikebal Patel, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president, said he did not object to the prayer, but supported Brown's proposal as more inclusive.
"There should be an attempt to try and be a little bit more generic and inclusive," Patel said.
Aborigines and other religions should be acknowledged, he said.
"Parliament shouldn't be seen to be a Christian club," he added.