A London council is set to stop beginning its meetings with prayers, and replace them with poetry readings.
Many councils choose to start their meetings with prayers, but Jayne Buckland, the Mayor of Enfield, has chosen to replace them in a bid to “support and encourage the arts”.
However, the decision has been heavily criticised.
Jon Kaye, a Conservative councillor on Enfield Council, said: “The decision to abolish the prayer before a council meeting is ill judged.
“This anti-religious move, at a time when we have an increasingly diverse borough with a variety of religious minorities, sends out the wrong signal.
“The prayer enables councillors to not only reflect on what is said, but to think about how we conduct ourselves during the subsequent three-hour meetings. This is a retrograde step.”
But council leader Doug Taylor has defended the Mayor’s decision, saying: “Prior to the formal business of the council meeting, the mayor has sole discretion to decide how best to reflect upon matters spiritual and temporal”.
He added: “The mayor has invited poets to read out a short poetry item in the council chamber before full council meetings – something that celebrates our borough and supports and encourages the arts.”
Those who wish to pray before meetings will be able to do so in the Mayor’s chambers.
Last month it was revealed that a secular campaign group was trying to use the courts to ban a North Devon Council from starting its meetings with Christian prayers.
Bideford Town Council has reportedly had prayers at its meetings since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but the National Secular Society (NSS) claimed that the practice infringes the human rights of non-believers.
But last week Boris Johnson slammed the NSS’s campaign, and pointed out that Parliament has prayers before its meetings, and that it is helpful for both believers and non-believers.
Speaking to Premier Christian Radio, Mr Johnson said: “Whatever they may think about the existence or non existence of God or whatever, it’s quite a good thing that they should focus briefly in a moment of prayer, which is a unique period of reflection”.
He added that any attempts to ban the practice would be “misguided”.