Saturday, February 11, 2012

Prayer in council meetings

I was really interested to hear the High Court ruling yesterday that it is unlawful for public prayers to be said in local council meetings.

I was actually pretty suprised by it. It wouldn't suprise me if this was a story from the United States. Stories like this come from the US pretty frequently, such as this story about a girl's objection to a written prayer in a public (state) school. But this is the UK, a country with a State Religion. I can't remember a ruling having gone this way before.

The ruling was only in relation to the Local Government Act 1972, but it may have much wider implications. Don't forget that prayers are said in Parliament every day. How long until they are challenged? Are we actually seeing a move towards the separation of church and state in the UK?

Well, I hope so. I entirely agree with the people who brought this case. The principle has to be that councils, or any democratic body, have to be for all the citizens of an area. Council meetings should represent all citizens of all religions and none. Saying prayers as part of council meeting suggests we are all of a the same religious opinion, and that simply itsn't true.

The unholy alliance between state and church does no good to either. If some people would like to gather for prayers before meeting, then so be it. And of course anyone can offer a silent prayer any time they like. But public prayers in meetings should have no place in a democracy. Religious freedom has to include those with no religion, or else it is no real religious freedom.


Blogger Joseph said...

Leaving aside whether or not I think the ruling was a good one, I personally do not have an issue with prayers in these settings. I don't take an ideological stance on this and believe that if people want those prayers, and it does not create any problems for anyone (as in the vast majority of cases) I would find it somewhat intolerant to oppose such prayers just for the sake of it. It does frighten me that doctrinaire approaches are more often undertaken, when a more neighbourly, respectful, tolerant and dare I say British approach, would do more for mutual respect and coexistence.

7:02 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...


As someone who in many many ways is more "American" than "British" with these kinds of things I find that the easy tolerance we accept in this country is usually on the condition that we accept Anglicanism as the State Religion. If we accept that Anglicanism has the right to dominate religious discourse then everyone else is tolerated. I tend to resist this.

Having said that I do believe that mediation is usually more fruitful than going through the courts. Would it have been so difficult to come to an agreement that prayers would be said at 7.25pm and the meeting would start at 7.30pm? That would seem sensible. But I guess the National Secular Society wanted a test case.

8:15 am  
Blogger Urban Unitarians post words of inspiration said...

I am all for expressions of religion in politics and public life- the Occupy Movement being one example. But like you I disagree with a particular religion seemingly having privileges. Incidentally since there is one historical precedent of Unitarianism being a state church (Transylvania)I wonder if there is anything to learn from this?

9:19 pm  

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