Council chairman ‘disgusted’ by ban on prayers at meetings

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PRAYERS will no longer be held at full meetings of South Kesteven District Council following a judge’s ruling.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that prayers are not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 following a complaint from an atheist councillor about prayers being held during council meetings by a council in Devon.

Chairman of SKDC Mike Cook branded the ruling “absolutely ridiculous” this week. He said: “In my view, we live in a Christian society and therefore we should have Christian practices.”

Coun Cook said the traditional prayers held at the opening of full council meetings had received the backing of other councillors - including non-Christians.

Coun Cook said: “I’ve had support from a Hindu councillor and an ex-councillor who is a Muslim. Both agreed that it is shame certain members object to prayers being said before the council meeting.”

The ruling has been appealed but Coun Cook fears it could encourage further objections.

He said: “Will they extend it to the singing of the national anthem? Will we be allowed to say God save the Queen?

“Where will it all end?”

Following the ruling, Coun Cook plans to hold prayers before the formal opening of future full council meetings. The next full council meeting will be held on March 1.

Labour councillor for SKDC Rob Shorrock, who describes himself as a humanist and an atheist, had previously called for the council prayers to be scrapped. He said: “I would not expect myself or people who hold my beliefs to have a similar opportunity at council to spout on about why God doesn’t exist and the beauty of evolution. It’s just not appropriate to the business of council. The business of council should be purely secular.”

But Coun Shorrock supports Coun Cook’s plan to hold prayers 15 minutes before the meeting begins.

Coun Shorrock said: “I totally believe in religious freedom so people can worship if they want to and who they want to. If they want to organise that within council facilities and before the council meeting that’s up to them and I’m fine with that. No problem whatsoever. But it shouldn’t be forced, through a council meeting, on councillors who do not follow the Christian faith or have other religious views.”

Coun Shorrock has questioned prayers before meetings at SKDC for years as it is not part of the council constitution or mentioned in the agenda for meetings.

He said: “Councillors can’t turn around and say ‘shameful’ and ‘disgusting’ - words that have been used against me - when it is clearly against the constitution and not on the agenda.”

l Should prayers be allowed? Or should religion be kept out of council meetings? Email us: comment@granthamjournal.co.uk