Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart February 13, 2012 at 11:17 am


Remember when you were told to bow your head for prayers at the beginning/end of school assembly? Well, Bideford Town Council has just had a slap on the wrist for incorporating a similar ritual into their formal Coucil meetings:

A Devon town council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said before meetings, the High Court has ruled.

Action was brought against Bideford Town Council by the National Secular Society (NSS) after atheist councillor Clive Bone complained.
Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972. However, he said prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend.

The judgement was being seen as a test case which could affect local councils across England and Wales.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers as practised by Bideford Town Council had been unlawful because there was no statutory power permitting them to continue.

The NSS, which said prayers had no place in “a secular environment concerned with civic business”, argued the “inappropriate” ritual breached articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience and not to face discrimination.

The article goes on to include the reaction from the church-going members of the Council:

Anthony Inch, a Bideford town councillor and Torridge district councillor, said he hoped there would be an appeal leading to the ruling being overturned.

“I’m disgusted, surprised and saddened by the decision,” he said.

Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said: “We are pleased that the court has said the saying of prayers at meetings does not breach human rights laws.

“But it is bizarre that they should be declared unlawful because of the 1972 Local Government Act.”

He added: “The judge’s finding that the Local Government Act doesn’t give local authorities power to include prayers as part of their formal meetings – we think that’s extraordinary.

“I mean we’re talking about a practice that goes back to the Elizabethan era”

Heaven knows, we could all do with a little more Elizabethan doctrine in our lives.

So what do you think; is the NSS just nitpicking and prayers should be part of the formalities of official Council business? Or should expressions of Faith be kept out of  official Government business?

Comment below…

You can read the full article over on BBC News



February 13, 2012 at 11:21 am
Bobby says:

Personally, I think that prayers shouldn’t be a part of business, and be a private thing instead. Whether you believe in her or not, the matters they are discussing have nothing to do with God.

February 13, 2012 at 11:21 am
JimmyButters says:

TThis was the correct decision. We live in a secular society; official prayers have no place. Councillors can have a private prayer before meetings if they wish. Now it’s time to take similar action in our schools. All schools are required to hold a daily act of worship aimed at a “higher being”. This regardless of whether the school is a faith school.

February 13, 2012 at 11:22 am
Joe says:

It’s become more of a tradition which still goes on in parliament. Why change now.

February 13, 2012 at 11:29 am
Sipech says:

There is a fine line to tread between ensuring that there is no group enjoys an undue and undemocratic favour, and seeking to silence them beyond reason. It has to be noted that the human rights issue which was the original complaint was not upheld by the court. So on the grounds it was fighting, the NSS lost. The decision against the council was on more of a technicality.

As a moderate secularist, I would be in favour of allowing prayers for those that consider them helpful (their efficacy is another matter entirely!) without forcing or coercing any members to participate in such an activity, but not to go down the route of banning them. That is a step too far.

February 13, 2012 at 11:30 am
Lee Morris says:

If it wasn’t for prayers at school,I might not have come to think like an atheist at quite the young age that I did!!
I was scalded and clipped round the ear ole’ for “not praying properl”!!
I used to cup my thumbs under my chin,kind of like a chin rest if you will,thus providing a modicum of comfort for said chin,whilst having my mind read by god!! However,after my apparently blasphemous praying technique was chastised,it made me question the whole shebang ……

February 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

I’ve heard many arguments against secularism; I’ve het to hear a valid one.

“But England/Britain is not a secular society, it’s a Christian society” – Well, let’s change it. Secularism is a GOOD thing for people of any religion. It actually protects your right to practice your own religion, and not be forced to follow the rituals of some other arbitrary religion. EVERY society has a mix of beliefs (and non-belief), and should respect all of those rights by having a secular government structure.

“This infringes my right to pray in council meetings” – Does it b****x? You can still pray quietly to yourself. Or does God only listen if you say it out loud, with your eyes closed? What if it was mandatory Islam prayers, on mats, facing East. What about your rights then?

February 13, 2012 at 11:36 am
Jim says:

It’s a tricky situation. The problem I think lies in the fact that officially we are not a secular country – as in our parliament, laws, and monarchy are all tied to religion, specifically Christianity. I’m an atheist but as such I really have no objection if people want to include prayers or other such practices as long as I have the right not to take part. I don’t think it is right or fair to ‘ban’ prayers in this way – I think that it should be made clear that such practices are optional and traditional. I also think that if the person in question is an atheist – ie someone ‘without God’ – then what difference does it make to them if other people have faith? If they were of a different religion entirely then perhaps a case could be made…

February 13, 2012 at 11:39 am
Alistair says:

No they are not nitpicking, they are spot on. Religious practices should not be compulsory in modern society. That includes government, business and education.

February 13, 2012 at 11:43 am
Andrew C says:

I think what has happened here is right, all that has happened is that they’ve said “councillors should not be formally summoned to attend”, that way everyone is happy.

The atheists aren’t forced to go through something they don’t believe in, and the religious bods can take part in it, if they choose to do so, I certainly don’t think there are grounds for appeal!

There’s no doubt in my mind that an appeal will just be another waste of time and money.

February 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

I have no problem, in principle, with people who choose to believe as long as they allow me not to. I will debate God and religion, often fiercely, but will never preach or proselytise. If my rationale fails to be persuasive, so be it. To foist my conclusions down believers’ throats would be unacceptable and I expect them to respect my lack of faith in equal measure. The least harm principle – Bentham, John Stuart Mill etc – should apply here. The assumption that prayers before council meetings is acceptable is to deny non-believers their equal right not to pray. The solution, surely, would be to set aside a pre-meeting prayer room where those who wish to express their faith may do so.

February 13, 2012 at 11:45 am
bob says:

typical of religious types to make such a fuss. What have they lost? the right to impose prayers on people who consider them ridiculous. If they want to pray they still can before the meeting so they have lost nothing,

February 13, 2012 at 11:48 am
Matt says:

I think this is the thin end of the wedge for the NSS & I hope they follow this up & eventually eliminate faith influence on schools. However, the backlash that is being loudly voiced is an indication of how much of a shock to the system this may be. Evolution or revolution?

One day the religious will work out that separating church (religion) from state is actually a positive move for them, and the only way to ensure genuine freedom of religion.

February 13, 2012 at 11:51 am
distilled says:

I’m torn, it does seem a little petty, but I know that I’d be up in high dudgeon if I had to say a prayer every time I attended a meeting.

February 13, 2012 at 11:56 am
Ian says:

It’s a start but I’d rather get the bishops out of the House of Lords. Being really good at believing in fairies shouldn’t be enough to let you decide my laws. I read once that countries with a proper separation of church and state have really powerful churches (think American Evangelists) so maybe we’re better off.

February 13, 2012 at 11:58 am
Dave Donaghy says:

Aside from anything else, what do Christian councillors expect non-Christian councillors to do at these session: keep quiet and do nothing while the real Christians pray? Or join in, becoming Christians? Or pretend to join in, thereby presumably performing some kind of blasphemy through an explicit, deliberate pretense at prayer?

February 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm
Tommy says:

Saying if prayers is not outlawed. The formal inclusion of them in an agenda is. Do you suppose God requires advanced warning?

February 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm
Jimbo says:

It’s remarkable how the fact that “prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend” is ignored by a large section of the media in favour of a fabricated story about an attack on christianity. Thank god the lefty BBC still reports all the facts…sometimes.

All that is required to resolve the matter is that the meeting start 5 minutes later than previously so that it’s possible to miss the prayer without being formally recorded as absent from council business. I’m sure that if the councillors were forced to attend the ritual sacrifice of a goat by satanist members then it would be human rights which the media would campaign on, not the rights of the religious group.

February 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I don’t want to be nit-picking but your headline is misleading “Town Council Prayers Outlawed”.
This is not what the ruling said. As I understand it the ruling was that the the council had no legal right to include things like prayers, that were not properly council business, on their FORMAL agenda. I think the judgement is sensible and upholds a valid point of principla. Your headline however just fuels the “Aggresive Secularism” myth that the Christian Institute is pushing with its many court cases.
Pickles said “Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish.”
The ruling specifically DID NOT stop people saying prayers BEFORE the meeting but you headline would imply that it did! Love the Elizabethan link tho.

February 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm
Dan Hunter says:

It amuses me that christians dont or wont understand the world that we live in. If you want to chat to your invisible friend then arrive early and do so before the meeting starts. I hope this spreads as I only live a few miles from Bideford!

February 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm
Damian says:

I understand that faith is important in some peoples lives and the processes and rituals are not always easily separated in day to day living.

I don’t see any problem with a group getting together before a meeting to sit and share their common faith. I don’t really mind where they meet as long as they are aware that others may want to sit and share a different faith or none or be alone in quiet contemplation.

I do have a problem with a public space, especially one designed for governance, debate and decition making for a whole community being solely used for the celebration of one faith. I have even more difficulty with this celebration being part of the agenda for a meeting. I see this in terms of exclusion rather than inclusion. With a little thought and tolerance the prayers could have been carried out prior to the meeting or a moment of inclusive quiet contemplation at the start of the meeting. But I guess tolerance and inclusivity was not what these councillors wanted, rather imposition and the feeling of having a little bit more power and supiorority. I wonder if their god paid any more attention to their prayers?

February 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm
Jordan says:

I agree that it’s a practice that should be stopped. Imagine walking into your workplace and because it’s “tradition”, we all say a prayer.

Why don’t we bring back some other Elizabethan traditions while we’re at it.

Prayer has no place in business. You can show your religion in your actions towards others.

February 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm
steve says:

I thought that in 2012 athiests would be better represented in local and national government. After all we don’t want God dictating policy, rather common sense.

February 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm
Atia says:

I’m sure the Christain councellors would complain if they had to take part in Jewish or Hindu prayers.

February 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Ugh – Another nail in the coffin of free speech …

I’m more than happy for atheists to go about there day unfettered by the quirks of the religious ‘believers’, but, do they have to do that at the expense of others and there personal quirks.

Does it cause Dawkins & Co so much strife that some people want to live according to a different orthodoxy?

I say – live and let live … after all “most” of the councils seemed to be offering prayers before the meeting had even begun or be minuted if previous articles are to be believed.

The new atheism seems to be far more controlling nowadays than the old religion.

February 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm
Paul Hadley says:

Prayers before official council business? I’m off to an official management meeting soon and would think it eccentric at best if we prayed before our meeting. Everyone is free to attend a place of worship in their own time but there’s no place for worship in a place of work.

February 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm
Anon says:

I think the Christians would see things differently if they were being forced to say Muslim prayers. Typical religious bigots wanting to enforce the ways of the minority onto the rest of us.

February 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm
Mr Spock says:

Hoo-ray! At LAST some sense at last. Thank GOD we don’t take religion as seriously as the Americans do. Why SHOULD people be put in a position where they will stand out like a sore thumb for not adhering to a ritual which other people have assumed IS valid? If you are an atheist or an agnostic (to say nothing of other non Abrahamic faiths) people often apply negative assumptions about them despite the fact they know nothing about them!

Also I heard on BBC’s Any Answers that if you bowed out of the prayers before a session you cannot reserve a seat & may miss the chance to make an important point as a result.

It is a disgrace that this nonsense wasn’t stopped years ago!

February 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm
Higgs boson says:

I believe all faith should be kept out of business where ever possible or I shall be going to work dressed as a the Dalai Lama and refusing to deal with anyone that has conflicting beliefs to my own.

I wonder if my boss would believe that Jesus had told me to ask him for a pay rise and that God was watching closely to see the outcome.

February 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm
Gammidgy says:

The prayers were divisive when they were introduced and they are divisive now. They were a Protestant innovation that excluded Catholics from proceedings, since the Catholic practice was to be led in prayer by a priest, not by a lay official.

If only more Christians would see that the only way to secure freedom of religion, for themselves and others, is by a total separation of church and state. Some get it, but such Christian secularists are rarely heard to argue against their bishops.

(Q for Anglicans: Do you think the 26 bishops in the Lords speak for you? Do their opinions, as the leaders of a homophobic and misogynistic Church, reflect your morality?)

February 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm
Don says:

They can pray all the want but they can’t make prayer a part of the actual proceedings.There is nothing to stop those who want to pray – or meditate quietly – from going into another room before the meeting or showing up 10 minutes early.

The fact that it has gone on for a long time is irrelevant. Tithing went on for centuries.

February 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm
ChrisP says:

February 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm
Stephen Waters says:

I don’t think anyone should be forced to attend prayers, neither should anyone be forced to abstain from praying. The only question I would have raised with the judge is that as the Church Of England is established by law, is not the saying of prayers before Parliament and Local Council meetings is part of what it means to have an established church? Someone tried to stop me ringing a church bell before service because of the noise. His failed because the law says that a bell must be rung to let people know the service is taking place and can only be changed by disestablishing the church and state. I was also asked to say prayers before the council meetings, my friend on the counsel came in after the prayers as he did not believe in God.

February 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm
Dawkins&Co says:

Do they still have to put their chairs up on the desk, at the end?

February 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm
roz says:

YEAH! now why the hel cant we do that in the US? :(

February 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm
Georgie says:

I have to say that i see no problem with expressing faith in any given situation. I also understand that some people may not want to be involved in these expressions too, and I believe this to be a fair view. But to ban people, and groups of people from asking for blessings or things of this nature from secular places, seems rather extreme. I cant see how it could be harmful to the meeting for it to commence with these proceedings.
I don’t know what these prayers consist of and so cannot put across a full view.
In my view don’t prey if you don’t want to, but I cannot see how it will benefit anyone to prevent others from practicing their faith.
Just a thought!!

February 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm
Matt says:

It’s frightening to see how biased the responses and the edittors picks are on the BBC website.
As frightening as the sense of entitlement Christians seem to have in regards to their faith being integral to society.
One comment on their described the idea of ‘serparation of church and state’ as being a ‘secular belief’ and one that the Christian majority should fight, with the Christian faith being a necessarily invasive ideal. And they call out secularism as being the instigators of these things.

February 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm
Matt says:


By entering the meetings late to avoid participating in the prayers, individuals can be reprimanded for being consistently late or miss out of obtaining seats and thus not get a chance to speak.

By attending on time but abstaining from the prayer they single themselves out as being non-Christian and perpetuate a religious clique atmosphere within the council.

Lastly, anyone who needs to seek guidance from their imaginary friend shouldn’t be in a position of power.

February 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm
mike says:

I don’t think the victory will be long lived. Has anyone else noticed the silent creeping move towards a christian theocracy by this tory government.
Apart from computers, invented by that criminal homosexual Alan Turing, things have barely moved on much since 2000 years ago. We still live in the dark ages philosophically.
I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe we are living in the 21st century and religion is still established in the government and monarchy.
vive la revolution,
and PARDON ALAN TURING.( the greatest human being of all time, ever )

February 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm
mike says:

@ Matt… I have long held the belief that there is a secret christian clique deeply embedded within the BBC.
GOD, THE QUEEN and the BBC… the evil triumvirate. Now there’s a conspiracy theory.

February 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm
Jason says:

What about the people who neither want to pray, nor want other people to know their religious views for fear of persecution? Removing prayer entirely ensures that nobody gets ostricized for their own beliefs (or lack therof)

February 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm
Don says:


You say you led prayers before council meetings. I take it you mean not as part of the formal proceedings, which is the issue here. Before or after pray away, no-one is stopping anyone from doing that, just not during.

February 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm
Mex5150 says:

I used to live in Bideford, and *VERY* nearly ran for council. I assure you if I did, this case would have gone to court a lot quicker than it did!

February 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm
Jimbo says:

Matthew 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

I wish I was shocked by the comments here supporting the forcing of non-christians to endure christian prayer sessions. Sadly there is nothing shocking about christians behaving in this way towards their neighbours. This is NOT a christian country. In a christian country people would do what Jesus told them to do and pray in private; there might even be a law to prevent heretics praying in public.

February 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm
Jackie says:

Why does this end up as an attack on Christianity? Those who believe in God know there is just one God and all use prayers no matter what their religion. Just as people of different Christian denominations may open the prayers, so could people of different faiths – a prayer is a prayer. So although Britain has a Christian tradition, prayers do not exclude those of other religions as long as each has their turn to lead the prayers. Even if you are an atheist you have surely have your beliefs – in humanity, common sense, free speech, whatever, so you might like to focus the meeting by appealing to one of those . Instead of churlishly dissing Christianity you could try impressing your colleagues by the wisdom of your take on life. If you have none by all means skip the prayer/blessing.

February 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm
alan says:

Remember when you were told to bow your head for prayers at the beginning/end of school assembly.
Funnily enough I do. And the fact that for ages I thought they were saying: Our father we chart in heaven…Just goes to show how muddled and erroneous mere interpretations are.

February 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm
Graham says:

This just seems another attempt to erode our society into a faithless spineless country. Communities that have no faith within regardless of the type of faith have come across as empty. We need a focus! In schools if they have no faith focus (which they by law must have but seem reluctant in some schools to impliment) in my humble opinion they have an up hill battle to give the children some meaning in life. Let’s give this country some meaning again!

February 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm
Higgs boson says:

If only removing prayers could solve the problems of the local town council. Unfortunately corruption is a trait of the religious and the non religious. Perhaps we should all pray that our money is better spent.

I worked for the council for a very short while and they had 5 consecutive meetings in hotels about reducing costs without increasing council tax. Each meeting consisted of about 100 – 150 people who sat round in tables of 10 with a plate of biscuits on each table (which was later revealed to have cost £11.00 per plate) and each meeting lasted about one and half hours. If you did the math for number of people x number of meetings x duration of meeting x hourly rate + location costs it would not be cheap.

In the end they concluded that council tax would have to rise – I resigned.

February 20, 2012 at 11:46 pm
Naomi says:

For one, it amazes me how those who are atheist are offended by being ‘tarnished with the same brush’ and then go on to do the exact same thing towards Christians.

“If you are an atheist or an agnostic (to say nothing of other non Abrahamic faiths) people often apply negative assumptions about them despite the fact they know nothing about them!” – the same can be said for most of the anti-faith comments on here, they exemplify and are based on numerous stories that portray a MINORITY of Christians.

Surely we have learned that the media needs bad press to stay afloat and not to have it spoon-fed as the absolute truth.

February 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Everything Derren Brown demonstrates is that the human mind is prone to misdirection and suggestion.

A prayer before a meeting is simply to stop the chatter and distractions, to be still, to reflect on deeper meanings before carrying on the business of the day. To regain perspective that life is bigger than what we are doing.

The misdirection and suggestion here is that prayers are held before a God of the Epoc. Place an Ordained priest in the room and you have the hypnosis of a Regime.

However, ‘remove the baby out with the bathwater’ and you will have nothing but hustle and bustle where the dictact of business reigns. By Govrnment Order, Comrade. No quiet voice of conscience will be heard as truth is no defence.

One hellstate for another.

February 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm
Pip says:

Now it is part of an integration strategy! Oh the irony.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) published its Integration Strategy for England last week. ‘Creating the conditions for integration’ specifically supports prayers as part of the formal business of council meeting because ‘Christianity – and faith in general – plays an important part in the heritage and culture of our nation’ (p11)

I’m a local government employee and an atheist. I want no part in any meeting that puts prayers on the agenda. It is, at best, going to divide people before any meeting begins. I find it deeply troubling that the government is taking this position.


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