Wrong advice says council can be sued over prayers

A town council in Devon has received “misleading” advice saying that opening its meetings with Christian prayers infringes human rights laws.

Just like Parliament, Bideford town council opens its meetings with short Christian prayers. The practice is followed by other town councils up and down the land.

But following a motion from a councillor to end the custom, Bideford’s town clerk applied to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) for guidance.

In its response, the NALC told the council the tradition should be discontinued in case members of the public attending the meetings felt that the prayers were an infringement of their human rights.

Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, called the advice “…quite simply misleading and wrong.”

He said: “This situation is 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.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Clive Bone, who tabled the motion to ban the prayers, said: “One needs to ensure that no one feels embarrassed or put out, or feels the council belongs to a particular group.”

A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Article 9 of the [Human Rights] Act is about allowing people to exercise their religious freedom, not about stopping them expressing from their religion.”

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