Council at centre of prayer storm votes to appeal

Fri, 17 Feb 2012

Bideford Town Council, the Devonshire Council which last week was banned from having prayers as part of its formal meetings, has voted to appeal the decision.

The High Court’s ruling last Friday prompted widespread criticism with one MP describing it as “utterly preposterous”.

And Cabinet minister Eric Pickles described the decision as “illiberal and intolerant”.

Concern

Since the ruling Mr Pickles has said he will fast-track the commencement of legislation that will restore the right to pray to councils.

In light of the decision to appeal, The Christian Institute’s spokesman Simon Calvert said: “There has been an enormous outpouring of concern at all levels of society over what the Bideford ruling could mean for our Christian heritage.

“It seems almost everybody in the country wanted Bideford to appeal, so people will be pleased that the Council has voted to do so.

Changes

“Of course, since the ruling, the Government has promised to fast-forward new legal changes.

“Lawyers say these changes give councils power to include prayers in their meetings, so the ruling itself may be overtaken by events.

“However, Bideford has voted to appeal in order to protect its position, which is clearly the right thing to do.

Protect

“Their lawyers will be advising them on what steps to take next and The Christian Institute is looking forward to continuing to co-operate with them to help protect the place of prayers in British public life.”

The High Court ruling, made by Mr Justice Ouseley, only affects the formal meetings of local government, and does not stop councils from holding prayers outside of that setting if they wish to do so.

The court rejected claims that the saying of prayers discriminates against, or breaches the human rights of, atheists.

Poking

The National Secular Society, which supported the case against the Council, said it expected an appeal and would pursue the case “vigorously”.

Among those who commented on the case this week was The Daily Telegraph’s cartoonist Matt, whose drawing poking fun at the decision can be viewed here.