Outrage over prayer ban

Mayor of Normanton Coun Denton Jones.
Mayor of Normanton Coun Denton Jones.

CITY mayors and councillors have hit out at a new High Court ruling that public prayers are unlawful at meetings.

At meetings of Wakefield Council and Normanton Town Council this week, councillors said the tradition of saying prayers before the beginning of a meeting was “valued”.

But the custom could be scrapped from meeting agendas following a High Court ruling that it is unlawful.

Mayor of Normanton Coun Denton Jones slammed the ruling at a meeting of the town council on Tuesday.

He said the council had been advised to exclude prayers until more clarity was given on the legalities of the practise.

He said: “In a Christian country this is totally wrong. Prayers are normally said to acknowledge the work of the council and its members, and for the community they represent.

“We are taking action along with other local councils to attempt to get this ruling overturned. We would welcome any support from the people.”

A row broke out in Devon in 2010 when an atheist councillor brought legal action against Bideford Town Council, claiming prayers left non-believers excluded.

His case was backed by the National Secular Society and a High Court judge ruled last Friday that there was no “lawful” place for prayers at formal meetings.

At a meeting of Wakefield Council on Wednesday, the city’s Mayor Coun Ros Lund said prayers were a “valuable part” of proceedings.

Coun Lund said: “We would not wish to see a practise that services this council well disappear. The saying of prayers allows for a short period of contemplation and has been a long-held tradition.”

The ruling affects councils throughout the country and has sparked wide national debate this week.

The government’s communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles has vowed to have the ban overturned using powers within the new Localism Act.