Prayers are not part of official council business, High Court rules
Friday 10 February 2012
Congratulations to the National Secular Society, which today won a lengthy battle to establish that prayers should not be part of a council’s official agenda. The NSS backed a councillor on Bideford Town Council in Devon, who did not want to leave the room after the full meeting started while prayers were said by a cleric.
No one is arguing that councillors who have religious beliefs cannot pray on their own or with other councillors before the meeting. Bideford Council was offered the option of removing prayers from the official agenda and giving councillors time to do that. It refused, and that is why the case went to the High Court.
This is not, as it is being portrayed in some quarters, an attack on Christians. It establishes an important principle, namely that religion is a private matter and has no place in the official business of a body elected to represent people of different faiths and none. I have argued for years that public space in this country should be secular, and that the secular principle protects believers, atheists and agnostics alike from oppressive behaviour.
Today’s judgement is welcome, and overdue. The process of turning this country into a modern, secular democracy goes on….
If you would like to read the judgement in full, you can find it here: http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/bideford-judgment-final.pdf
If you would like to know more about the work of the National Secular Society, which I support, you can use this link: www.secularism.org.uk