We think council meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all councillors, regardless of their individual religious beliefs or lack of belief. We also consider it inappropriate for a group of publicly-elected members to appear corporately to subscribe to any religious beliefs, far less one in particular. We therefore argue that worship should play no part in the formal business of council meetings.
On 10 February 2012 we won a landmark legal challenge to prayers during council meetings.
The High Court ruled that "The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue".
This means councillors are perfectly free to pray in their own time before the meeting starts, but prayers should not form any part of the official business of a meeting to which councillors are summonsed to attend.
Despite the ruling, a number of local councils persist with including prayers as part of their meetings.
For local democracy to be representative we think it is important for local councils to move away from practices that deter full involvement from all sections of the community they serve. We regard acts of worship in council meetings as a key secular issue concerning the separation of religion from politics.
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Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:46
The NSS has accused the Government of undermining religious freedom by supporting a bill to include "prayers or other religious observance" in the business of local authority meetings.
Tue, 06 May 2014 12:55
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that opening public meetings with prayer does not automatically violate the Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion.
Tue, 05 Nov 2013 12:04
Tomorrow (6 November) the United States Supreme Court will consider whether opening council meetings with prayers is legal.
Fri, 19 Jul 2013 14:17
Conservative councillors in Plymouth have reacted furiously to a new timetable for council meetings that moves prayers to 15 minutes before the meeting begins.
Fri, 21 Jun 2013 08:56
Conservative MP Matthew Offord has introduced a parliamentary bill to reintroduce prayers to local council meetings. Religious observance at council meetings was outlawed by the High Court in 2012 after a successful challenge by the National Secular Society.