Cameron and Bercow back prayers in the Commons
Mon, 13 Feb 2012
The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House of Commons have backed prayers in the Commons, following last week’s controversial ruling on local council prayers.
A source at Number 10 said the Prime Minister “thinks that the prayer sessions are very important and that we should keep them”.
And a spokesman for the Speaker said there was no plan for any review of prayers in the Commons.
Currently prayers are said at the start of proceedings in both the Commons and the Lords. Attendance is voluntary.
On Friday a judge in the High Court ruled that the saying of prayers as a ‘formal’ part of local council meetings was unlawful.
The ruling only affects the formal meetings of local government, but the secularist group which brought the case indicated it would like to see an end to prayers in Parliament as well.
A spokesman for John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “Under the Bill of Rights 1689, the Commons has the right to decide on its own processes and procedures.
“It says, ‘The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.’”
The ruling on Friday centred on Bideford Town Council in Devon which has, recently, twice voted in support of continuing with the prayers.
Individual councillors were free to not take part in the prayers if they wished, and the register of attendance was not taken until after the prayers had finished.
Bideford Town Council’s legal defence was underwritten by The Christian Institute – a national charity that defends religious liberty.
Simon Calvert, a spokesman for The Christian Institute, last week warned: “This case was brought by a campaign group that wants to drive Christianity out of public life”. He added that the High Court had given the campaign group “great encouragement to take matters further”.
Government minister Eric Pickles, Labour MP Chris Bryant and the Bishop of Exeter have been among those who have criticised the ruling.
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