Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. It seems to me that there are numerous reasons to get rid of this piece of archaic and offensive mumbo jumbo, the Speaker’s prayer that is read at the beginning of each sitting day in the New Zealand Parliament. Our Parliament is an institution which must, by its very nature, recognise and be inclusive of the culture, customs and beliefs of all law-abiding New Zealand citizens.
But the Speaker’s prayer does precisely the opposite. It excludes not only every New Zealander who does not believe in a god, but through its reference to ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’, every New Zealander who does not subscribe to Christian dogma In the 2006 Census, roughly 1.3 million Kiwis stated that they had no religion. A further 200,000, including Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Spiritualists and New Age religionists, subscribed to non-Christian religions. Another 300,000 failed to state whether they had a religion and a quarter of a million more objected to being asked the question at all. The grand total of all of that came to 2,075,298. The total number of people describing themselves as ‘Christian’ was 2,027,418. Let’s not quibble about the figures. Let’s just say that in 2006 the number of Christians in New Zealand more or less equalled the number of non-Christians. So the Speaker’s prayer that opens every sitting day of the New Zealand Parliament has no relevance to, excludes and may well be an affront to at least two million of the country’s citizens, including several MPs.
Next, the sentiments expressed in the prayer remind one of nothing so much as the cloying humility and obsequiousness of Uriah Heep. We must ‘humbly acknowledge’ our need for guidance, we must ‘beseech’ a creature half of us don’t believe in to come to our aid, we must ‘glorify’ His holy name and declare Jesus ‘our Lord’. And what role should the New Zealand Parliament have in ‘the maintenance of true religion’, whatever ‘true religion’ means? The answer surely has to be ‘none’. And, while many of us may admire Her Majesty, none of us should be required to ‘honour’ her, her children, grandchildren or their future heirs. The suggestion is preposterous. But the most compelling argument against keeping the Speaker’s prayer is less what it says than what immediately follows it – the uncivilised bedlam of ‘questions for oral answer’ and of parliamentary debate in general. One can only conclude that God does not exist or is deaf to the Speaker’s entreaties. His (or her) prayer is patently never answered.