The Lord Mayor of Leicester has banned Christian prayers before council meetings, and branded the process “outdated, unnecessary and intrusive”.
Colin Hall’s decision to abolish the prayers is likely to alarm many Christians who feel their faith is being increasingly excluded from the public sphere.
Writing in this month’s edition of the Leicester Secularist, Mr Hall said: “I am delighted to confirm that I too will be exercising my discretion as Lord Mayor to abolish the outdated, unnecessary and intrusive practice.
“I personally consider that religion, in whatever shape or form, has no role to play at all in the conduct of council business.”
However, the Lord Mayor’s decision has saddened church leaders in the city.
Ian Jones from Leicester Christian Fellowship said: “I find it deeply sad that anyone would want to suppress the rights of others to pray.
“If someone has a problem with this practice, could they not simply join the meeting once it is over?
“Cllr Hall has a right to express his views, but I think it is sad that those who wish to express their faith are banned from doing so. If we can’t allow tolerance both ways, it is a tragic state of affairs.”
And Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “The reading of Christian prayers before meetings symbolises our Christian heritage and offends nobody”.
Last Sunday Mr Hall refused to take part in a service being held at Leicester Cathedral welcoming him to the role of Lord Mayor.
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, the Mayor of London, 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”.