House Speaker Trevor Mallard stands by his decision to remove 'Jesus' from the Parliament prayer, telling a group of MPs it was impossible to please everyone.
Mallard addressed the MPs at a select committee on Wednesday who have been considering a petition to remove religion from the Parliament prayer, oaths, and national anthem.
It comes after Mallard's decision to remove 'Jesus' from the Parliament prayer in early 2018, sparking a protest in October of around 1000 people who argued Mallard had overstepped his authority.
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"We want the name of Jesus Christ in the prayer; otherwise to what god are we praying?" Jesus for New Zealand member Ross Smith said at the time.
Mallard said he consulted with parliamentarians and found that many of them were in favour of a secular prayer where the word 'God' remained but 'Jesus' was removed.
He told the select committee he also discussed it with people outside of Parliament who had religious views but were not Christian and talked about the implications of a prayer with a reference to a specific religion.
A more specular prayer would allow people to "respect the particular god in which they believed but without an Anglican prayer which excluded groups of Christians and all non-Christians", Mallard said.
"It might be our English heritage but I think it's not the religious view of most New Zealanders now and I'd say not most Anglicans."
Mallard, who was elected Speaker in November 2017, acknowledged there was "quite a lot of controversy" when he changed the prayer a few months into his post.
He said he received submissions from both sides of the equation: those who felt it was inappropriate to have religion in a secular country's Parliament and those who wanted a strictly Christian prayer.
Mallard said he "took some heart in the end" from the view of former Prime Minister Bill English, a Christian himself, who told Mallard he "thought the balance was about right".
"I think I've acknowledged here and acknowledged previously that the initial consultation that I did was brief and almost certainly inadequate," the Speaker said.
"But I also did that in the knowledge from my experience of previous sets of consultation that it is not possible to build a consensus in this area because of the three distinct groups that there are."
He said out of the MPs he spoke to, 40 percent wanted the prayer as it was, 30 percent wanted it as it is now which is "more inclusive", and about 30 percent thought religion shouldn't be there at all.
Mallard acknowledged that he essentially overruled the largest group. But he said he said he was "happy to take a step towards being inclusive".
The Speaker confirmed he is not considering making further changes to the Parliament prayer. But he said he would "consider" any proposals made by the committee.
He said it was "particularly clear from the Jewish community" that changes should be made.
"If people had a prayer which they felt they were comfortable praying, rather than one to a deity they did not accept or a son of a deity they did not accept, then some people felt uncomfortable with that."
National MP Maureen Pugh asked Mallard if he had a view on removing religion from oaths and the national anthem, referring to the petition request.
But Mallard said as Speaker he should "only speak to the prayer".
Parliament opened with an Islamic prayer four days after the March 15 Christchurch terror attack in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community.
MPs stood as Mallard led a multi-faith delegation of religious representatives into the House of Representatives.