A council in Staffordshire is facing criticism after it ditched the saying of prayers at the beginning of its meetings.
The move comes despite the Government writing to all local councils in England telling them that new laws restore their power to hold prayers at official meetings.
A church minister usually leads the prayers at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, but following a ‘compromise’ move, people who want to pray at council meetings must now do so separately 15 minutes beforehand.
The move has provoked criticism from The Daily Express newspaper which said in an editorial: “The role of the Christianity in our national life does not threaten freedom but bolsters it.
“Our established church ensures there is tolerance for those of other Christian denominations, other faiths and those of no religion at all.”
Local resident June Havelock, 67, was also not happy at the move. She said: “If someone objects they can simply step outside for two minutes.” Another voter commented: “Christianity is seen as an easy to silence target.”
The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Terry Follows, also criticised the move, pointing out: “We are quite within the law to carry on having prayers in the chamber at the start of meetings.”
The change was proposed by Labour councillor Gwen Hassall who said she wanted to continue with the prayers but commented: “There are people who have religious differences and some are secular too.
“By doing it this way we are not offending anybody and it saves people coming to prayers who don’t want to”.
The Government circular to all English local councils explained the laws on council prayers with Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, saying Britain was “not strengthened by the secularisation of civil life”.