God squad weighs in over NSS’s successful challenge to council prayers

God squad weighs in over NSS’s successful challenge to council prayers February 11, 2012

RELIGIOUS leaders  – plus Community Secretary Eric Pickles – have let loose a collective howl of horror over the news that the National Secular Society had won its prayer case against Bideford Council.

Community Secretary Pickles is concerned over the ‘chilling’ effect of the court ruling

The God squad, according to the Telegraph, are saying that it amounts to a victory for an “aggressive secularist agenda” intent on banishing religion from public life.

A High Court judge ruled that there was no “lawful” place for prayer during formal proceedings after an atheist parish councillor objected that the tradition excluded non-believers.

Secular campaigners insisted the case had only “modest” implications and would not interfere with anyone’s freedom of religion.

There were also fears that the ruling could throw local preparations to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee into doubt by opening the door to legal challenges from opponents of the monarchy.

The legal challenge was sparked by Clive Bone, a former member of Bideford Town Council in Devon, who objected to the tradition on grounds of conscience. Yesterday, at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Ouseley, ruled that it did not breach Mr Bone’s human rights or amount to discrimination, but  nevertheless concluded that it was “not lawful” to say prayers as part of formal meetings under a clause of the Local Government Act 1972.

He issued a formal legal declaration stating that councils had “no power” to include prayers in meetings – although they could be held in council chambers before the formal proceedings get under way.

Simon Calvert, a director of the Christian institute, which supported the council’s case, said:

We are talking about something that has gone on for centuries in a constitutionally Christian country … this outlaws it at a stroke and it seems to be another example of the courts siding with an aggressive secularist agenda.

He added:

Local authority lawyers are going to be asking themselves … what about singing the national anthem? What about celebrating the Diamond Jubilee? Do they fall outside the Local Government Act?

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, is understood to be concerned about a “chilling” effect on some councils planning jubilee street parties for fear of legal action.

His lawyers are preparing to issue emergency legal guidance to councils, effectively urging them to ignore the ruling. They have advised him that new laws, due to come into force within weeks, would override the judgment by giving councils a “general power of competence” over proceedings.

Pickles said freedom to worship was a “fundamental and hard-fought British liberty”.

We are a Christian country, with an established Church in England, governed by the Queen. Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish.

This drew a sharp response from Freethinker contributor James Merryweather, who immediately emailed a letter to Pickles:

You insist that Britain is a Christian country, so what is to prevent others claiming with equal petulance that, for instance, we are a nation of biologists? Neither is true and – please note – we botanists do not claim special privilege under any circumstances; we just want the right to study and enjoy biology.
 Neither do we claim any special privilege as atheists (for an awful lot of biologists are atheists) or as atheist biologists, as happens to be what I am.
Please take notice of what Clive Bone (Bideford) is saying when he fairly states: ‘Religious freedom is an absolute right, and so is freedom from religion’. By all means follow whatever religion you please, but don’t for one moment think you have any right to impose that religion on others, particularly in places where democracy is a fundamental tenet, as in town council chambers. That is not fair.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said prayer was:

Central the public life of the country. There is a huge constitutional implication to this. Where will this stop – by a test case about prayer in Parliament?

He added:

Prayers in Parliament are definitely part of the proceedings, they are recorded as such, they are on the order paper and part therefore of the constitutional arrangement of the country as the Queen in Parliament under God.

Muslims aren’t best pleased either. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation said the judgment was an:

Attack on all faith. We are a religious country, a majority Christian country. As people of faith – whether we take inspiration from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or whatever – we should take pride in that and be able to say prayers, I think this judgment is a step back, it is an attack against freedom.

Bone, a retired engineer, from Bideford said he was “delighted” by the ruling.

I totally agree with Eric Pickles when he says that there should be freedom of religion but it is not a licence to impose it on others in inappropriate situations.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, added:

This is an important step in recognition of secularism in public life so that everybody whatever their religion or lack of it feels equally welcome and treated with equal respect.

And Cllr Imran Khan, a Tory member of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council in Surrey, said:

Religion has no place in politics.  This High Court judgment is a victory for everyone who believes that democracy and religious freedom is the cornerstone of western free society.

The council was granted leave to appeal but last night it emerged that both sides were considering appeals – on different aspects of the ruling.

The judgment came a day after a series of leading clerics called on the Church of England General Synod to “resist” moves to exclude chaplains from NHS hospitals.

"Well, you know what they say about ASSuming things."

‘Love it or leave it’ sign ..."
"Yeah, I picked up on that, too. Well, I did live outside of the US ..."

‘Love it or leave it’ sign ..."
"I'd probably say, "okay," and move on. I really don't care what you believe, and ..."

C of E teaching used against ..."
"CoE is still the official state religion, of which the Queen is the head. Religion ..."

C of E teaching used against ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pete H

    I’m sorry, I have to take the immature approach here and just say:
    BOO HOO! 😀

  • barriejohn
  • Atheist4Life

    That Peter Griffin lookalike really pisses me off. Why can’t he admit that he wants the UK to be a Christian theocracy?

  • missus_gumby

    At last! Now we know who ate all the pies!

  • Don

    Freedom of religion is not remotely touched by this ruling as they are perfectly free to pray before the meeting. By insisting that prayer should be part of the official proceedings they are imposing their beliefs on others. They have got away with that for a long time, but people are starting to kick back, if they find that ‘chilling’ then good.
    And yet again one has to ask why such devout christians have not read their damn book, or at least seem to have skipped Matthew 6:5.

  • Broga

    This isn’t about christian concern for equality. It’s about christians demanding that their privileges continue to be inviolate and imposed on the rest of us.

  • Bubblecar

    Christ what a porker.

  • remigius

    barriejohn. I’m actually on’t bus on the way there now. Very few things will get me out of bed on a cold morning, my democratic right to ridicule the ridiculous is one of them.

  • Buffy

    We are talking about something that has gone on for centuries…
    Of course because it’s gone on for centuries that means it’s OK, and nothing should ever change.
    We are a Christian country, with an established Church in England, governed by the Queen. Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish.
    They can say all the prayers they want whenever they want–silently. They just can’t subject everyone else to their prayers on the taxpayers’ dime. Why can’t the god-botherers ever see the distinction?

  • AngieRS

    Typical misinformation and even downright lies over this issue. So much for good christians being righteous. And of course, there’s Pickles, an ignorant homophobic twat.

  • ZombieHunter

    There’s nothing to stop any christian or anyone from any other faith having a quiet pray to themselves in another room within the council building before a meeting.
    Council meetings are for dealing with issues that affect everyone and anyone of all faiths and of none who happen to live in that area and religion has absulutely no place in politics in the 21st century, this is a great victory and I hope the first of many.
    As has been said before, freedom FROM religion is just as important as the freedom to beleive.

  • john.c

    Obviously, the ruling has deeply offended many christians, they now have to arrive early to pray, and wont be doing it on paid time.I hope the legal ruling is enforced if the councilors defy it, its disgusting that the minutes for many councils meetings include prayers,its a legal record, and as such should be secular.

  • tony e

    Mr Justice Ouseley has made, for a member of the judiciary, an intelligent and rational ruling.
    No doubt prominent christian legal groups will, at this moment, be preparing letters that, with boring predictability, will howl that they are ‘being persecuted.’
    For some reason they simply cannot grasp the concept, shown brilliantly in this case, that people want freedom from religion.

  • LSM

    He ate Jesus!

  • Newspaniard

    Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation has his gold plated victim card out. Might I suggest when he is complaining against this ruling, he is not actually thinking about “all” religions, just that which he hopes will be imposed on the rest of us infidels.
    In passing is Communities Secretary Pickles, one of our elected leaders, actually inciting councils to break the law or have I misread it?

  • Newspaniard

    Come to think of it, aren’t most of the protesters reported here, actually in contempt of court?

  • john.c

    Noticed also the BBCs coverage as decidedly unfreindly ,at no point was it made clear that prayers were being held on paid meeting time and that the objection was not on the grounds of an atheist being offended by the prayers, just their timing,nor was the lack of objection to prayers on non paid time before the meeting brought to light.

  • john.c

    Newspaniard, it seems to me that Community secretary Pickles is indeed inciting people to break the law, is that not an offence these days? As yet, news of his arrest and charges being brought against him, and his subsequent resignation, are not forthcomming. I live in hope .

  • Harry

    Does anyone want to start an epetition calling for council tax breaks for people who aren’t willing to pay their councillors to pray on council time?

  • James B

    The highlight of the Daily Mail’s typically impartial and level-headed coverage was this:
    “[the ruling] prompted concern that it would pave the way for Parliament to abandon prayers before Commons and Lords business, mark the end of hospital and Forces chaplains, and could even lead to the abolition of the Coronation Oath, pledged by Kings and Queens taking the throne.”
    Should this come to pass, I suspect the nation may struggle on.

  • Stonyground

    I read in the NSS Newsline that the CofE General Synod have been discussing their response to the campaign by the NSS to have chaplains removed from NHS hospitals. In fact no such campaign exists, there is hoever, a campaign for the chaplains to be paid for by the CofE rather than NHS funds. The thing that struck me about this was that I know the clergy tell lies to the general public, this council prayers business being a case in point, but this is their own official talking shop, they are actually telling lies to each other.

  • barriejohn

    Talk about lies and disinformation! Carey has now said on the Today programme that the ruling was “an empty victory” and councillors could simply pray privately before meetings. Well – isn’t that just what has been said all along? How disingenuous of him to even suggest that anyone was trying to prevent people from praying. Clive Bone has made it quite clear that he was not objecting to private prayers, and that he thinks that freedom to practise religion is an essential right. You can read Carey’s remarks here:
    I don’t think that I am going to be able to stomach The Big Questions tomorrow after all this, because we all know what subject is going to be top of the agenda!

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    I like the way that all the complainants are blaming Mr Bone and the NSS for this, making out that they are the victims, when it was the council that was breaking the law and all that Mr Bone and the NSS have done is to ensure that the law is upheld. It’s a bit like the Alquist (sp) case in the USA, the victim is being blamed just for getting the law upheld. Strange how so many right wingers are upset though, I always thought they were big supporters of laura n’order.
    As someone said at the rally today (sorry, can’t remember who), Eric Pickles should now be referred to as the christian communities secretary.

  • Petursey

    I reallly despise this wannabe southern Tory scum Eric “Jabba the Hutt” Pickles. He tries so hard to be a real Tory but just comes across as a twisted nasty has-been.

  • AngieRS

    Yeah, Petursey, any chance of keeping regional differences out of it. Thank you, so kind.

  • The Woggler

    Carey on the BBC site says councils will just pray in private before meetings. Yes, that was rather the point. Dope.

  • Jim Boomba

    Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. In the Christian religions, it is considered a sin because of the excessive desire for food or its withholding from the needy.
    Someone should mention this to this to Mr. Pickles.God he’s even named after a food.

  • barriejohn

    Yes, Graham: here we have ridiculous spectacle of the party of law and order telling councils to ignore the law! However, Pickles seems to think that he will soon be able to circumvent the ruling:

  • barriejohn
  • barriejohn

    I’ve just been enjoying myself reading the erudite and informed comments on the Mail site!
    “This ruling is bitter sweet for me, bitter because this ruling blocks people from getting the opportunity to know the awesome God we serve, and for the Anti-Christ population to continue in their wicked ways, but sweet nonethe less for the bible did warn us of these times to come for they are evidience that my Lord is near and we Christians are heading home and justice will finaly be doneon all mankind.”
    And just in case you were thinking that the Telegraph might have attracted readers of a somewhat higher calibre of intelligence:
    “Why do atheists push their non belief,and try and convert everyone to their ‘rational’ways.”
    And so to bed!

  • Pingback: Aggressive Secularist Agenda « myatheistlife()

  • Bubblecar

    A more recent Pickles snap for Barry to use for this story:

  • barriejohn

    They do say that “you are what you eat”, Bubblecar!

  • Rudi Preston

    Don’t know about anybody else but I find it hilariously typical that the comments in the Daily Mail’s article all seem to see this as an attack by immigrants on English culture.

  • barriejohn

    Not all Christians are over the moon about Pickles’s Localism Act:
    They are obviously only in favour of laws which favour Christianity!

  • Stonyground

    I’m not sure but I think that as the situation stood there would have been negative consequences for anyone who had wished to leave the room during the prayers. I have followed the story but I am not sure of the details here. Does anyone else know?

  • barriejohn

    Stonyground: That was the issue! Prayers were actually the first item on the agenda, so any councillor not attending was recorded as absent from the meeting. No one was objecting to prayers BEFORE the meeting at all.
    BTW Has anyone else noticed amongst all the small print that Carey has a new book out this week? What a coincidence!

  • Angela_K

    I just found this in the comments section of Conservative Home: “I wonder what Eric Pickles prays for? Pies I should think, and it obviously works.”

  • Don

    How relevant is Pickles’ weight and appearance?

  • barriejohn

    The ill-feeling at Bideford goes back at least to the occasion when councillors were reprimanded for failure to attend church after the Remembrance Parade a few years ago:
    I’m not sure that the NSS have won the great victory here that they are claiming. Prayers have been disallowed on a technicality, which the government are planning to attend to, but the case on human rights and equality grounds was dismissed, and that now sets a precedent. Whatever new legislation is passed the same case cannot be made again (as I see it).

  • Dave

    We are a Christian country, with an established Church in England, governed by the Queen. Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish.
    Interesting that Eric Pickles should make this assertion. I remember 25 years ago when he broke a long-held tradition to put the Conservatives in charge of Bradford City Council, with himself as its leader. He wasn’t so outspoken about the UK being a Christian country back then, but he was still someone you couldn’t trust and wouldn’t want to turn your back on. He’s a truly nasty piece of work.

  • Jabez

    I agree with Mr Bone on this issue. It is also an opportune moment to question the dominance of the prayer for the Queen, conducted in parliament on a daily basis.

  • Angela_K

    Don “How relevant is Pickles’ weight and appearance?”
    OK, it is a cheap joke but Mr Pickles = like so many christians = has ignored the bit in his bible about gluttony.

  • Broga

    Just in case we are getting above ourselves I heard this comment, “The National Secular Society is a tiny group of militant atheists who are being allowed to push christianity to the margins of society. We must remember our values are founded on the christian faith and this is a christian nation.”
    So keep pushing.

  • Normand

    Touché, Angela, but it’s supposed to be the Temple of the holy spirit which certainly has to be a vast meeting place and to be even nastier, he not only ate all the pies he also ate the pastry chef! Sorry. Couldn’t miss that.

  • Harry

    It is possible to get fat from things other than gluttony. Trans fats really are that bad for you.
    Not that I expect Pickles got fat from anything other than speaking at official dinner meetings several times per week.

  • Broga

    Has the avoirdupois challenged Pickles got a medical condition (his oceans of fat seems beyond even what is usually regarded as excessive) or is he a glutton who cannot resist all those free meals?
    He seems to be pressing his luck on avoiding diabetes, arthritis, stroke, heart attack, fatty liver etc. Should we feel sorry for him?

  • Harry

    How about we focus on the most important issue, which is that he’s a twat? His health is surely of secondary interest.
    Also, if it is just that he gets a lot of food that contains trans fats then he can only blame the party which recently refused to follow the example of a lot of countries worldwide and ban them. So that’s academic also.

  • AgentCormac

    Eric Pickles – it’s an anagram for pies licker.

  • AgentCormac

    Actually, no it isn’t. Too many letter ‘c’s in Eric Pickles. Ah, well, it was worth a try. Spice licker works though – it just isn’t as apt.

  • Stanley

    Why can none of them see that it ONLY increases freedom? They’re still allowed to say prayers, just not as part of the formal process. How is that banishing religion from public life? This hyperoffended attitude to every increase in secularism is really wearing thin.

  • Broga

    Harry. Yes, of course, we should focus on the important issue. But when I read what he says and then see that squashed little face with its malevolent piggy eyes surrounded by grotesque layers of fat the character of the man and his appearance just seem to fuse. I know its a cheap shot and I know I shouldn’t.

  • Harry

    Do you actually think that losing a few stone would make him look any better? Sure, he’s fat, but that’s not what gave him those freaky eyebrows or the perpetual frown or…
    One could almost suspect that he deliberately chose to get fat so people would pick up on that rather than how inhuman he looks.

  • Broga

    Harry. Losing a lot of weight would leave him with another problem. He would have a massive fold of loose skin round his belly. This could be surgically removed. That leaves still another problem. If he then fails to control his gluttony his skin would split as the stretch would have gone. I think I am telling you more than you need to know – or want to know.

  • Harry

    If he managed to go back in time and avoid ever gaining the weight then I think he’d have a nob for a chin.

  • AngieRS

    No, Harry, he’s already a nob head, you can’t have two.

  • Harry

    So you say, Angie, but I’m looking at a photo which begs to differ.

  • Politicians and religious types taking things out of context – say it ain’t so!
    As has been pointed out here, the ruling simply means that prayers can’t form an official part of a council meeting. That means they can’t be listed on an agenda and no-one can insist on them being performed.
    They can be said before or after a meeting with the main difference being those who chose not to sit through them won’t be marked as absent or have to issue apologies for non-attendance.
    But hey that’s nowhere near a good a story as ‘Judges ban prayers’ and that’s all that matters right; after all when have either of these two groups ever been interested in contradictory facts?

  • Kevin

    Re the tag, “Nothing fails like prayer”, you appear to misunderstand the point.
    The “failure” of prayer in your sense would be manifest to anyone who contemplated the Agony in the Garden, when Christ prayed to be delivered from His impending execution. Prayer should instead be considered in a similar manner to hope. For example, it is possible to discern a difference between the friend who genuinely hopes for your good fortune, and someone who merely expresses the words – and we can appreciate the former’s concern for us. Likewise, sincere prayer for another – including a genuine desire for his material well-being – is a moral disposition of will. (Where possible, it will be accompanied by actions that speak louder than words.)
    Prayer for oneself is actually prayer for the good of God. Thus the Our Father contains the petition that Christ made in Gethsemane – “Thy will be done”.