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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Leicester Council re-embraces religion

Leicester City Council has re-instated the saying of prayers at council meetings on the order of the new Lord Mayor, Robert Wann.

Prayers were dropped from council meetings by the previous mayor, Colin Hall, who also declined to attend the civic service held for him last year. Councillor Hall also appointed prominent Leicester secularist Allan Hayes as a “humanist chaplain”. Alan is an NSS member and a previous Secularist of the Year nominee.

Councillor Wann brought religion back into the council with a bang this week when his civic service at Leicester Cathedral saw him reading passages from the Bible while a previous Lord Mayor Manjula Sood read a prayer that was “relevant to all religions.”

In his sermon, Bishop of Leicester the Rt Rev Tim Stevens described Leicester as a city where “temples, mosques and gurdwaras punctuate the skyline, reminding us of the sacred links and shared aspirations of tens of thousands of its citizens”. He concluded by asking for God’s blessing for Councillor Wann’s work. Speaking after the event, Coun Wann said: “I thought it was an excellent service and the readings were very poignant. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time.”

During his year in office, Coun Wann will be assisted by his chaplain, Canon Barry Naylor, who led yesterday’s service with the Dean of Leicester Cathedral, Vivienne Faull.

He said: “It was a service for all faiths and people are here from all faiths – that’s what Leicester is all about.” He added that he was planning to start a new tradition of the High Sheriff also having an annual service at Leicester Cathedral, and hoped to have one in September this year.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “The service was suitable for everyone, the Lord Mayor claims – everyone except those who don’t happen to have a belief, or others such as Orthodox Jews, who are discouraged from entering churches? Why on earth — in Leicester of all places — was it held in a Church of England cathedral if it was supposed to be for everybody? A suitable secular space should have been used so that everyone really could have been included. Leicester Council’s brief moment of secular sanity has been rapidly replaced by an insensitive and discriminatory emphasis on religion, perhaps even evangelical Christian triumphalism.”

The National Secular Society is hoping to challenge the saying of prayers as part of council meetings, and is awaiting a High Court date for the hearing.

Published Fri, 03 Jun 2011