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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Prayers at council meeting are ‘not religious’, says council chair

A local councillor from Cirencester in Gloucestershire has called on Cotswold District Council to scrap prayers at the beginning of council meetings. Councillor Gary Selwyn (Lib Dem) told fellow members of Cotswold District Council that he was surprised a prayer was said at the start of council meetings, saying the council needed to be more “open, embracing and respectful” of people’s backgrounds and beliefs.

Cllr Selwyn, who was newly elected to the Watermoor ward in the May elections, raised the issue at a CDC full council meeting on Tuesday. He questioned why CDC supported a prayer when all members represent the people in the wards regardless of their religion.

However, Carolyn Nicolle, chairman of the council, said all councillors pledge to do their best when they are elected but that prayer was an “opportunity to say something more”. She said: “In my prayers I try to focus on things to which we can all subscribe,” she replied. “It is not about a religious statement or stance, as I fully appreciate the many different religions and faiths that are supported in our district, as well as the fact that there are people who do not believe.”

The prayer at the start of the meeting is usually led by the chairman of the council with Cirencester vicar Leonard Doolan occasionally being asked to attend. Canon Doolan said Cllr Selwyn should not enter meetings until after the prayer if he finds it offensive. “Many of the CDC councillors are Christians, or are supportive at least of the work of the local churches in the district,” he told local newspaper, the Standard.

The National Secular Society will be mounting a challenge to prayers in council meetings at a Judicial Review in the High Court on 17 November involving Bideford Town Council.

See also: Call to end prayers in Irish parliament

Published Fri, 22 Jul 2011