An assistant editor at The Guardian and the Labour MP Chris Bryant have both hit out at a secularist pressure group’s attempt to ban a local council from saying prayers.
Last week the National Secular Society (NSS) went to the High Court in an attempt to end Bideford Town Council’s practice of saying prayers at the start of its meetings.
Commenting on the case Michael White, an assistant editor at The Guardian, warned that the case raised a wider question “about the intolerant impulse many people have to inflict their views on others”.
He said that “communities should surely be allowed to sort out their own arrangements” without interference from the NSS.
And Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, questioned why the case had even gone to court.
Mr Bryant said “surely the 16 members of Bideford Council, who have already voted on this twice, should be allowed to pray, if they want to.
“And any member who doesn’t want to pray should be free not to do so. Why it all has to go to the High Court I don’t know.”
Former councillor Clive Bone says that he was “disadvantaged and embarrassed” when Christian prayers were said in the council chamber. Mr Bone’s case is being backed by the NSS.
If the case is successful it could mark the beginning of the end for the saying of Christian prayers in other civic settings.
Commentator Cristina Odone, writing in The Daily Telegraph, painted a “bleak” picture of public life without prayer.
She said: “Picture public life, if the humanists have their way: no Remembrance services held by local authorities; no chaplains in the Armed Forces; and the opening of Parliament, as well as parliamentary sessions, shorn of all reference to a spiritual authority. Why stop there?
“If Bone wins his battle, the Coronation Oath itself would have to change. We wouldn’t want the monarch ’embarrassing’ Mr Bone and his fellow atheists, would we?
“That is a bleak prospect: public prayers have been central to this country’s celebrations since the days of King Alfred.”
Last year Boris Johnson criticised the NSS for its attempt to stop Bideford Town Council’s prayers.