Conflict over council prayers in Axbridge

Axbridge Town Council raised the idea of abolishing prayers at its meetings last August when some councillors said the worship infringed on their rights as atheists. The Council decided to refer the matter to its personnel and protocol committee, who will investigate it and make recommendations to the Council.

But the idea has met with strong resistance. Axbridge Town Mayor Baz Hamblin said: “I would be very disappointed if we were told to scrap them. If we get rid of prayers, will we stop attending the church’s harvest festival? Will we stop paying for Christmas lights and a tree to be put up in the town square? Where will it all end? Christianity is being discriminated against in favour of a minority.”

Nearby Winscombe Parish Council sparked controversy when it ended 115 years of tradition and abolished prayers two years ago. Archie Forbes, the Council’s current chair, said: “We abolished them because councillors wanted a civil parish council, not a religious parish council. We have no axe to grind against religion. We are not anti-church in any way, shape or form.” He said that the Local Government Act of 1894 divorced the church from parish councils and that since then most parish councils had got rid of prayers at meetings.

The NSS’ case against Bideford Town Council will be heard in the High Court on 2 December.