Protesters have descended on New Zealand’s parliament to demand the speaker reinstate references to Jesus Christ in the parliamentary prayer.
Since taking over the role in November last year, Labour’s Trevor Mallard has dropped any reference to Jesus in the prayer which opens the start of every session.
Mallard said he wanted to make the prayer more inclusive for all parliamentarians and the tweak was a “compromise”.
A reference to “almighty god” remains, but it is not a specific reference to a Christian god.
On Tuesday around 1,000 people protested on the steps of parliament house in Wellington, arguing that New Zealand was a Christian nation and Mallard had no authority to axe Jesus’s name.
The protesters want Jesus’s name reinstated, and held signs reading “Dishonourable Judas Mallard”.
“He needs a good kick in his pants, and he needs to actually be removed because this is a Christian nation,” protester Rieki Teutscher told Radio NZ.“We don’t share his atheism.”
Another protester, Carmel Morgan, said Mallard should have consulted with New Zealanders or announced a referendum before changing the prayer.
“This is a land of democracy, this is a land of freedom, you know, we want to be a first world country… he took that choice away from us.”
Politicians such as Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters have said it would have been judicious for the speaker to have consulted more widely before actioning the changes.
“Well the decision as to what should be changed should be made by parliamentarians and not the speaker – that’s our position, I don’t mind telling you publicly,” deputy prime minister Winston Peters told RNZ.
“If you’re going to make a change let’s have parliament decide – not one person.”
Mallard said he had consulted with parliamentarians and the majority had indicated they were in favour of a secular prayer.
Since being unanimously elected as speaker Mallard has made headlines for a slew of progressive tweaks to parliament in a bid to make it a more inclusive and family-friendly environment, as well as making it more welcoming to every day New Zealanders.
— Grant Robertson (@grantrobertson1) November 8, 2017
Mallard kicked off his term by minding MPs’ babies in his speaker’s chair during parliamentary debates, allowing babies to be fed in the house, banning media from photographing the prime minister’s daughter Neve, and planning a children’s playground on one of parliament’s front lawns.