Norfolk councils urged to keep saying prayers
Several Norfolk local councils have pledged to keep saying prayers before their meetings, despite a High Court ruling which threatened the tradition, and a former Norfolk County Council chief executive has urged them to continue doing so. Keith Morris reports.
Norfolk County Council and South Norfolk Council have backed the traditional prayers despite a High Court test case last week, brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist ex-councillor, ruling that Bideford town council, in Devon, was acting unlawfully by putting prayers on meeting agendas.
The judge rejected the human rights and equality challenges but ruled formal prayers were only unlawful because the council lacked the statutory power to put them on the agenda. If they were said before the formal agenda started, then there was no issue.
(pictured right), former chief executive of Norfolk County Council of 23 years standing and currently chair of the Good Work
industrial chaplaincy charity, said: “Prayers were said in the past because it was generally accepted that the UK was a Christian county, and the Christian faith was part of the bedrock of good government.
“Times have changed, with a much more multi-faith society and a more forceful atheism. But I am quite sure that nobody should feel threatened by a simple prayer asking for guidance and assistance in making sensible decisions for the benefit of local people.
“The High Court ruling does not stop councils - they should simply say prayers before the formal agenda begins,” said Barry. “I would urge them to carry on asking for good guidance in seeking the best interests for the local area.
“If any council wants to say a prayer and stay within the law, Good Work would be more than happy to enable them do so, like our colleague county hall chaplain Rev Chris Copsey (pictured top), already does at Norfolk County Council. Failing that I am sure a local minister would be happy to help out.”
At Monday’s full Norfolk County Council meeting, the first since the High Court ruling, prayers were said. Chairman Shelagh Hutson said: “Our prayers are not a formal part of our agenda. The agenda starts at item one, so we are intending to carry on with prayers.”
South Norfolk Council says it will continue with prayers, which are said before the council opens for official business, with councillors given the choice whether they attend or not.
Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Breckland Council do not hold prayers before their council meetings.
North Norfolk District Council, which holds prayers at full council meetings, will no longer hold them within the meeting.
Tom Fitzpatrick, portfolio holder for democratic services at North Norfolk District Council, thought the High Court’s ruling against prayers was regrettable.
“On a personal basis I’m saddened by the decision but really, as a council, we have got no choice but to abide by it. I think the majority of the members will be sorry, it’s a tradition in most councils across the country. As far as I’m aware it’s never been an issue the whole time North Norfolk District Council has been in existence.”
Tom said he thought most members would take up the opportunity to continue the tradition by joining prayers before the meeting was officially started.
It is understood that West Norfolk Council, where prayers are a formal part of full council agendas, is reviewing what will happen in the future.
Article extracts taken from EDP24, where you can read more about the topic.