Secularists to sue council over free parking for churchgoers

A local council is being sued by a secularist pressure group for allowing churchgoers to park free of charge in the town centre on Sundays.

The National Secular Society (NSS) is taking Woking Borough Council to court, claiming the scheme for three churches in the town is direct discrimination.

Attendees of Coign Church, Christ Church and Trinity Methodist Church use a “validating device” to mark car park tickets without needing to pay.


Last year, following another challenge by the NSS, the council adopted a new policy statement to maintain the system.

The NSS had claimed the scheme was in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

But legal advice for the council said it could be justified on the basis that it was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.


Now Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS is launching legal action, to challenge “preferential treatment of worshippers”.

Peter Bryant, the council’s head of democratic and legal services, said: “The policy applies to all faiths, not just church-goers.”

“The council considers that places of worship, and the faith communities that they serve, play an important role, both in society in general and Woking in particular.”


Ray Morgan, who is the council’s chief executive, said people should not have to “pay to pray”.

And one resident, who is not a churchgoer, said she felt it was “very sad” that the NSS is taking such costly action.

Office worker Karen Vincent said: “No doubt the council will incur a large legal bill defending its decision. I am sure that as well as the churches, the council helps other organisations with subsidised parking.”

Mr Porteous Wood is bringing the legal action after he paid three pounds to park in a town centre car park on Sunday April 14 for more than two hours, while churchgoers parked there without charge.

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