Thomas Bridge 02 March 2015

Fears raised over 'divisive' council prayers Bill

Fears raised over divisive council prayers Bill image

Measures that could grant councils powers to include prayers before meetings have been branded 'a recipe for divisiveness' in the House of Lords.

Peers debating a Government backed Bill have been warned by Nicholas Trench, the earl of Clancarty, that 'institutionalising' religion in any local authority meeting 'must in the modern age be insensitive and crosses what many people would think is today's acceptable line'.

The Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill was launched in response to a High Court ruling that town halls had no statutory powers to summon councillors to prayers. It was drafted with assistance from the Department of Communities and Local Government and is being carried through the House of Lords by Lord Cormack.

Lord Cormack said the Bill was 'a good, sensible, modest measure', adding that religion was 'part of the very fabric of our society'.

'I emphasise to your Lordships that this is permissive legislation. There are no obligations. If the town council of Puddleton-in-the-Marsh decides it does not want to begin its meetings with prayers, it does not have to do so. If, on the other hand, it decides that it wants the local vicar, Methodist minister, rabbi or imam to lead it in prayer, that can happen,' Lord Cormack added.

The Bill does not specify that prayers have to be according to the Christian faith, meaning any faith can be represented or period of meditation encouraged.

Trench said: 'The Bill does not specify which God should be prayed to or religion followed. I think that if the Bill passes, we will have a recipe for divisiveness and storing up potential problems in the long term. Is not the wisest course for councils to be scrupulously impartial with respect to the beliefs and non-beliefs held by the residents of a local area, while at the same time having a presence at, for example, the celebration of cultural and religious festivals where appropriate to do so?'

Backing the Bill, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said he believed it was concerned with 'freedom of local choice, freedom of religion, and freedom from a legal ruling that removed local democratic choice'.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles last year introduced laws protecting parish council from legal challenges over holding prayers, stating he had 'stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish'.

The Bill will now be debated at committee.

The Brownfield Land Release Fund image

The Brownfield Land Release Fund

To what extent does this early initiative of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities deliver on the ‘levelling up’ agenda? Lawrence Turner reports.
SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Planning Policy Manager

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£61.470 - £64.704
Be part of Greenwich's vision to successfully accommodate a high level of sustainable growth, which... Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Refuse Driver (Rolling Advert - applications checked weekly)

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£30.032 - £31.610
It is an exciting time in Street Services at the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Be part of a team who are... Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Commercial Contracts and Procurement Solicitor

North Yorkshire County Council
£32,910 to £43,857
Due to positive growth we are looking for Solicitors to join our Commercial Contracts and Procurements team. Homeworking
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

General Legal Counsel – Corporate and Commercial

North Yorkshire County Council
£39,880 to £43,857
Are you looking for a legal career which is rewarding and offers the perfect blend of public and private sector working? Northallerton, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Corporate Credit Control Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£34,033
The post holder will act as the expert point of contact on all issues to instigate and conduct cases of appointee ship. Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Public Property

Latest issue - Public Property News

This issue of Public Property examines how how flexible workspaces can lead the way in regeneration for local authorities, Why local authority intervention is key to successful urban regeneration schemes and if the Government’s challenge of embracing beauty is an opportunity for communities.

The March issue also takes a closer look at Blackburn with Darwen Council's first digital health hub to help people gain control over health and care services.

Register for your free digital issue