Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 14 October 2011
UK: Councils ordered to stop praying before meetings
Country/Region: United Kingdom, Europe
Two local councils in England have been told to stop members praying before meetings. It has been suggested that the practice may offend non-believers or other religious groups.
Crowborough Town Council and Mayfield Parish Council, in East Sussex, have been warned by the Sussex Association of Local Councils (SALC) that prayers "should not be part of a council meeting".
Mayfield Parish Council voted last week to say a prayer before each meeting, but bosses at the SALC stepped in and told them that if councillors want to say prayers they should do it outside the council chamber.
SALC has intervened despite its aims being to "protect and promote the interests, rights, functions and privileges of member councils" and to help them develop "social, cultural and recreational" life in the area.
Jacqui Simes of the SALC said:
Prayers are not part of the parish council's duties and cannot be included in the agenda. They should not be part of the parish council meeting. If they do then it should be something completely separate - and not any part of sitting around a table.
The controversy prompted Crowborough Town Council to get involved, with its leadership saying that prayers had been said before its meetings “for as long as anyone could remember”.
Before each meeting at Crowborough Town Council, councillors stand up and ask God to “grant them wisdom to make the best decisions”; then Mayor Kay Moss or the Reverend Andrew Cornes, the vicar of All Saints Church in the town, say a prayer.
Mrs Moss said:
No one's ever said there was a problem. The prayer pre-dates me by a long way.
There was a motion a few years ago to do away with it, brought by [former councillor] Julian Salmon. He said we should represent all faiths but we voted for the prayer to continue. I've never heard since that we were doing anything wrong.
The chairman of Mayfield Parish Council, Deveda Redman, said that it was decided at a meeting last week that the council would hold prayers before each meeting. She cast the deciding vote in favour after five councillors voted for the motion, five against and two abstained.
She told the Sussex Courier newspaper:
I wanted to get us all together thinking in some way of our aims for the good of the village. We live in an Anglican society and I felt an Anglican prayer was the right way forward - we don't have members who are Muslims or Buddhists.
Mayfield Parish Councillor Lloyd McClean disagreed, saying, “The law is very clear. If people wish to pray they should not do it at the meeting and it should not be on the agenda for discussion.
We live in a multicultural society. We have to look at the population and move with the times.
Alan Craig, leader of the Christian People’s Alliance, said:
As we rip up Christian values and now Christian prayers we see the result on our streets in the form of rioting, binge drinking and drug culture. The most important thing is to get Christian values and Christian prayers back into our society and not take them away.
Having Christian prayers is saying Christian values are good values for public life and a council meeting is a part of public life.
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Read The Daily Telegraph article Councils told to stop praying before meetings
Read The Daily Express article Fury as prayers are banned at council meetings
- That the two local councils in East Sussex will remain firm in their decision to keep prayers before meetings. Pray that UK councils will continue to have the freedom to say prayers.