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?
You can read the full article over on BBC News