NSS forces High Court ruling on council prayers
Following a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society to challenge the practice of having prayers as part of the formal business of council meetings in Bideford Town Council (Devon), the High Court has ruled:
The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.
This began when Bideford Town Councillor Clive Bone, who’s an atheist, was elected in 2007; he found that he was expected to say prayers at the beginning of meetings. Councillors in other areas have had similar objections, saying that this practice puts off atheists or people of other faiths from standing for election. Click here to hear Mr Bone talking about it.
I have repeatedly tried to persuade Babergh District Council (my local council) to change its practice of beginning full council meetings with prayers, and been told that they see no reason to change. Maybe this will make them think again.
From 2002-2003 British Guyana-born Harold Mangar was chairman of Suffolk County Council. He decided that he wanted to do things differently. During his term of office, Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource provided speakers from various local faith groups, and a humanist (me), to address full council meetings ten minutes before their council business began. The day I did it, several councillors told me that they normally arrived late to avoid prayers, but had made a special effort to come and hear me.
Now that the High Court has ruled, we will be drawing Suffolk local authorities’ attention to the illegality of their practices.