High Court Action Against Council Prayers Under Way

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: November 30, 2011

The National Secular Society uses courts to stop Bideford Town Council from keeping prayers on its agenda.

According to the Christian Institute, the Bideford Town Council, in North Devon, said prayers at the start of its meetings since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The council faced bringing to an end its tradition when a Liberal Democrat councilor Clive Bone proposed to ban the practice. The council twice decided to continue holding prayers as the first item of every council meeting. The National Secular Society (NNS) says the practice infringes the human rights of non-believers. In August 2010, the NSS lodged at the High Court for the “Judicial Review between the Queen, on the Application of the National Secular Society, and Bideford Town Council.” In November 2011, the National Secular Society (NSS) took the Devon authority to the high court. The NSS said that the "archaic" ritual is „inappropriate in a secular environment“ where civic issues are at stake. The court claim came after a letter signed by a lawyer was sent to Bideford Council requesting the prayers to be discontinue as they were illegal. "We advised the Council that unless the practice was stopped, the NSS would seek a judicial review. It is hoped that this will set a precedent that will affect the many other councils that have prayers as part of their agenda.", affirmed NSS on their web site. In addition, the NSS has issued a warning to the Association of Local Councils that [the practice of prayers] as part of the council meeting would be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights." Prayers beings said before council meetings are part of a wide spread tradition and included in the agenda of the majority of local authorities meetings.

Sources and further information:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-15973327 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8926011/Prayers-should-be-private-and-away-from-council-chambers-High-Court-to-hear-in-test-case.html http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/National-News/High-Court-bid-over-council-prayers-413583.xnf?BodyFormat=2& http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/high-court-bid-over-council-prayers-16084608.html?service=Print http://www.secularism.org.uk/nss-launches-its-no-to-council-p.html http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/30/council-meeting-prayers-challenged-high-court?INTCMP=SRCH http://www.secularism.org.uk/nss-launches-its-no-to-council-p.html http://www.theway.co.uk/feature.php?id=8656&this=Prayers_before_Council_meeting_challenged_in_High_Court Older reports (2010): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-10842605 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10171461 http://www.christian.org.uk/news/mp-pray-in-private-but-not-in-the-house-of-commons/ http://www.christian.org.uk/news/johnson-blasts-campaign-to-end-councils-prayers/