Prayers and the future of them on Council Agenda’s
For the last few months there has been a Judicial Review going through the High Court on prayers being part of the official council agenda. This case concerns Bideford Town Council with the case being brought before the High Court by the National Secular Society (NSS) after a compromise solution could not be agreed upon . The judgement today of prayers being ‘unlawful’ as official business will have a far-reaching impact on various Local Authorities.
In the judgement:
Mr Justice Ouseley, directed: “I do not think the 1972 Act […] should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors”.
It will be interesting to see what action Cornwall Council take in-light of this ruling. From within the Council there has been a concern from a growing number of Councillors who leave the chamber when prayers take place. Staff in principle can also leave the room, but many who I have spoken to feel they cannot. For the record I stay in the room out of respect, not by any firm religious conviction. The compromise could be prayers take place before the official meeting takes starts.
This ruling will also affect Town and Parish Council’s. Not all have prayers as the two town council’s I attend (being a member of Porthleven’s) only Helston Town Council has prayers, where as Porthleven does not.
No doubt there will be many e-mails, letters and phone calls for ‘guidance’ on this matter to council legal officers and organisations like the Local Government Association and Cornwall Association of Local Government (CALC). I think it will be a busy(er) few weeks for them!