Yesterday the courts decided that prayers should not be included on the agenda for meetings of Bideford Town Council, in a ruling which could have impacts up and down the land.
Councils, as with meetings up and down the land, will largely consist of people of a wide range of faiths and no faith at all. Meetings such as Council meetings have no religious aim, and it is unsuitable to start such meeting with prayers, of any denomination.
I, and I am sure most secularists, do not argue that religious people should not be entitled to pray before Council meetings. Of course they should. But it should not be as part of the official Council agenda. It is perfectly fine for prayers to take place in a separate room before the meeting officially starts, or even in the Council chamber as long as Councillors are permitted to enter the chamber, after prayers, before the meeting officially starts.
The Houses of Parliament start each day with prayers, but there is no requirement on members to be in the chamber for prayers. This is an adequate compromise. Meetings of a religious nature should of course be entitled to include prayers.
Attack on Christianity
A lot is being made in the press of this ruling being part of a wider attack on Christianity, and an attempt to remove Christianity from public life. This is not true, in the way that it is being portrayed. Religion should have no part in official Government or civic business. Secularism demands that religious views cannot be legally imposed on people, and that religious people are entitled to follow personal religious instruction, as long as it does not contradict the laws of the country.
The right to worship is not diminished. In fact, it is fundamental to the laws of our country.
Perhaps the perception that Christianity is being attacked comes from the fact that Christianity has for too long embedded into civic and political life when it should not have been. What is actually redressing what has been an incorrect imbalance for years is being seen as unfair by those who have seen their religion unjustly imposed on those who do not believe.
Christianity has no right to be included in civic life in ways that other religions or belief systems do not.