Until today Prayers have been said at the start of Bideford Town Council meetings. This practice has been taking place for around seventy years. However all this changed today when the High Court ruled: ”The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a council is not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.”
The case was brought by a now ex-member of the council, Clive Bone, and also by the National Secular Society (NSS). the case was not won on human rights grounds, rather in summing up Mr Justice Ouseley said: “A local authority has no power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, or otherwise, to hold prayers as part of a formal local authority meeting, or to summon councillors to such a meeting at which prayers are on the agenda.”
However, in a move that is likely to disappoint the NSS he also added in a second declaration: “The saying of prayers in a local authority chamber before a formal meeting of such a body is lawful provided councillors are not formally summoned to attend.”
There are plenty of articles on this already, so I’m just going to highlight a few rather than rewrite what’s already out there. You can find a good overview of the whole case in The New Statesman. The Telegraph also has a detailed article with a poll asking people’s views (I recommend you visit and vote). you can get the National Secular Society’s views here.
In an encouraging move, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has spoken out strongly against the ruling. You can read his statement with some analysis at Cranmer. Also The Chrisitan Institute has gathered a list of comments from other MPs critical of the ruling.
If you have plenty of time on your hands you can read Mr Justice Ouseley’s full judgement here.
The National Secular Society through their campaigning and actions are bringing further division and intolerance into our society. It appears that they are more concerned with bending the law and attitudes to their fixed ideology than really considering what is in the best interests of those who live in our country whether they are people of faith or not.