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Norfolk County Councillors vote to retain prayers

This afternoon (Monday) Norfolk County Councillors voted in strong support of retaining the practice of prayer in the Council Chamber before full Norfolk County Council meetings. Jenny Seal reports. 

On Monday, Norfolk County Councillors debated a motion to remove prayers from the Council Chamber ahead of full County Council meetings.

The motion was debated with passion on both sides, but ultimately was rejected with County Councillors coming out in support of retaining the prayers. With 74 councillors in the chamber, fifteen voted in favour of the motion, seven abstained and the rest voted against the motion in support of retaining the practice of prayers.

The motion tabled by Independent Councillor Mick Castle and supported in the media by the National Secular Society proposed that instead of prayers held in the Council Chamber before Norfolk County Council meetings, a short multi-faith service will be held in an alternative room for those who wish to attend.

Prior to the meeting Norfolk County Councillor John Ward, who represents Sprowston, said: “I definitely think prayers should continue prior to Full Council Meetings and will be voting to retain them. Prayers are held in both Houses of Parliament and have been since 1558. I think Councillors, and MPs, need this Christian reflection prior to making decisions which affect the lives of many others.”

County Councillor Thomas Smith, who represents Gaywood South and is also a Methodist Local Preacher, said: "I am very opposed to the notion of scrapping prayers before Council, we are a country with an Established Church, and it provides a moment of serious contemplation before we begin. Our present Chaplain has done us very well in reminding us of the importance of the agenda and Christian values before we begin. In England our values are Christian Values, even non-believers accept the importance of the Commandments such as not lying/telling falsehoods, helping those in need etc, and expect politicians to uphold them." 

"No one is forced to pray, only to show respect to the act for those who wish to do so, a basic principle of religious tolerance. Many Councillors, myself included, are religious but not members of the Established Church and we still find this time of prayer helpful to us. We are facing support for this motion from a London secular group, whilst the Head of the Established Church is Her Majesty, who is a beloved Norfolk Christian. Being Norfolk County Councillors, we are much more inclined to listen to the voices of our residents who want their elected officials to show good manners and respect for our traditions, than people who want to come up from London and tell us what to do to satisfy their pet prejudices."

County Councillor for Clenchwarton and King’s Lynn South Alexandra Kemp said: “Motions to Council are normally about helping the people of Norfolk, but this Motion to take away prayers at the start of full Council won’t do that.  Whilst this is a Christian country and Judaeo-Christian culture has shaped the UK’s social and cultural development for the last two thousand years, the prayers before Council always reflect values of tolerance and respect for other faiths and for people of no faith, and provide a civilising atmosphere of reflection for Councillors, in the context of an often fraught and oppositional atmosphere.

"A recent ComRes Poll* found that over half of the population pray and that 53% of non-Christians pray regularly. The loss of prayers before full Council would be a loss for Norfolk.”
The motion was been tabled at the Full Norfolk County Council meeting held on Monday, July 22 at 10am. The motion stated: “Although Council business by “custom and practice” has for many years been preceded by the Calling of the Roll and Christian Prayers, Council notes the increasingly diverse and multi-cultural make-up of 21st Century Norfolk and resolves from the start of the 2020-21 Municipal Year to dispense with the practice of conducting prayers at the start of Council meetings and to instead, conduct a short spiritual multi-faith service in an alternative room for those who wish to attend.”

* for the poll Cllr Kemp refers to please see http://www.brin.ac.uk/counting-religion-in-britain-january-2018/

Photo (L-R): Cllr Alexandra Kemp, Cllr John Ward and Cllr Thomas Smith

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