The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has slammed a secular campaign to stop a local council praying before its meetings.
Listen to the Mayor’s comments
Boris Johnson was speaking to Premier Christian Radio
The National Secular Society (NSS) is attempting to use the courts to stop Bideford Town Council in Devon from holding prayers before its meetings.
But Boris Johnson pointed out that Parliament has the same tradition, and that it is helpful for both believers and non-believers.
Speaking to Premier Christian Radio, the Mayor 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”.
Peter Kerridge, Chief Executive of Premier Christian Radio, commented: “I would hope that the NSS would respect the practice of prayers at the beginning of council meetings and those who attend who disagree, or do not wish to participate, are happy to be tolerant and respectful of those who do.”
Responding to the comments, NSS Executive Director, Keith Porteous Wood, said that only some of the Parliamentarians go into the chamber in order to pray.
Mr Porteous Wood said that some politicians who don’t go in for prayers feel “disadvantaged”, adding “unless you go in for prayers you actually don’t get such a good seat, which doesn’t seem to be a very good democratic principle to me”.
At the beginning of June Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said councils should continue to have the freedom to pray at their meetings.
While making clear he was not speaking about a particular case, Mr Pickles said: “Prayers are an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of the British nation.”
“While the decision on whether to hold prayers is a matter for local councils, I want to ensure that they continue to have the freedom to do so”, he added.
In May, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey hit out at the NSS campaign.
He said: “The attempt to rule such prayers as discriminatory is an attack on freedom and a cynical manoeuvre to drive public expressions of faith from national as well as local life.”
Bideford councillor Tony Inch fears the town council is being targeted because it doesn’t have adequate resources to fund a robust legal defence.
Mr Inch warned: “They are trying to use us as a test case”.
In 2008 Bideford Council faced bringing to an end its tradition of praying before meetings when a Liberal Democrat councillor proposed to ban the practice.
The Council was then given incorrect advice that their prayers infringed human rights laws.
Conservative MP for the area, Geoffrey Cox, criticised the advice at the time calling it “proof of a disturbing tendency to try to use spurious legal arguments under the Human Rights Act and equality legislation to eliminate the Christian faith from the fabric of our public life”.