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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Council Prayers

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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