Christian prayers have been dropped from the beginning of council meetings by the new mayor of Bridport in Dorset.
David Rickard has decided to replace the prayers at full meetings of Bridport Town Council with a “short time of quiet, private contemplation”.
He announced the move at his mayor-making ceremony but the decision has proved highly controversial.
Councillor Sandra Brown, a former mayor, warned that many members of the council were against the decision.
She said: “I feel very strongly about it and there are several of us on the council who are quite dismayed by it. Sadly though I don’t think there are enough of us to make him change his mind.
“It is one of our traditions and I think it’s an awful decision to stop it. I’m biased I suppose because I am a great believer in the power of prayer and I have seen it in action, but I think for the sake of five minutes at the beginning of a meeting, it should stay.”
David Tett, another former mayor and independent councillor, said: “I am a traditionalist. I am disappointed to see the prayers thrown out of the window like that. It is totally uncalled for.”
And Revd Canon Andrew Evans, Rector of the Bridport Team Ministry, said: “I respect his personal views but I was, of course, saddened to hear this because I believe the office of mayor to be above personal and political conviction and affiliation.
“It was also sad for there to be no-one representing the Christian community at the mayor-making ceremony this year.”
But Mr Rickard, an agnostic, said: “I have invited the Rev Canon Andrew Evans and his team to represent the mayor and town council for the religious elements of the civic year.”
He added: “I will be asking Canon Evans for an ecumenical approach to civic occasions to include those of all faiths and none.”
In a separate case Bideford Town Council is currently being sued by the National Secular Society for saying prayers at the start of its Council meetings. The Council is said to have had prayers at its meetings since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.