Councillors pray to God for guidance

In March 2015, the government introduced the Local Government (Religious Observances) Act allowing councils to hold prayers during their meetings, overturning a High Court decision in 2011 (see below).

West Sussex Humanists has sent all councils in West Sussex an email requesting their plans for prayers at future meetings. The results are shown below.

2015 Survey
Council Holds prayers? Comments
Adur DC No
Arun DC No

Arundel TC No

Bognor Regis TC Yes
Just before full council meeting in the council chamber
Chichester City Council Yes Just before council meeting in the council chamber
Chichester DC No

Crawley BC No

East Grinstead TC No

Haywards Heath TC Yes
Council Prayer read before every full meeting
Horsham DC Yes
Before council meetings
Littlehampton TC No

Midhurst TC No

Mid Sussex DC Yes
Council Prayer read at beginning of each full meeting
Petworth TC No

Selsey TC No

West Sussex CC No

Worthing BC Yes Just before full council meetings in the council chamber

In a 2012 survey, West Sussex Humanists found that 7 out of the 17 councils in West Sussex still hold prayers during or before council meetings. The table below shows the results.

2012 Survey
Council Holds prayers? Comments
Adur DC No
Arun DC Yes When chair asks for them
Arundel TC No
Bognor Regis TC Yes At full council meetings
Chichester City Council Yes Just before council meeting in the council chamber
Chichester DC No
Crawley BC No
East Grinstead TC No
Haywards Heath TC Yes
Horsham DC Yes Just before council meeting. Councillors can wait outside during prayers
Littlehampton TC No? May be introduced at the Annual Council
Midhurst TC No
Mid Sussex DC Yes
Petworth TC ? Has not replied to FOI request
Selsey TC No
West Sussex CC No
Worthing BC Yes Just before the council meeting in the council chamber

Emails were sent to councils still holding prayers, advising them of impending changes to the law. Some of the councils have moved prayers to just before the meeting starts.

The National Secular Society took Bideford council to the High Court on 2nd December 2011. The court ruled that councils have no right to hold prayers at formal meetings. The judge said that "I do not think that ... the religious views of one group of Councillors,  however sincere or large in number, [should] exclude or, even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their [religious] views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected Councillors."

West Sussex Humanists has asked all the councils above who still hold prayers at or before council meetings to cease this divisive practice, in the spirit of the judgement. If prayers are to be held before the meeting, they should not take place in the council chamber. A less attractive alternative is a period of silent reflection before the meeting.

In the meantime, Eric Pickles, Communites Secretary, unilaterally decided to overthrow the decision by fast tracking an addition to the Localism Bill. But the National Secular Society thinks that the Localism Bill has no jurisdiction over prayers. Unfortunately, in 2015 the government introduced the Local Government (Religious Observances) Act allowing councils to hold prayers during their meetings.

Andrew Edmondson presented the case against council prayers at the May 2012 meeting of Worthing Community and Equality Working Group (CEWG). This was followed by a lively discussion. Read the presentation and comments here.

The Mid Sussex Times and West County Times have printed these articles.

CouncilPrayersMidSussexTimesAugust2011150 CounclPrayersWestCountyTimesSeptember2011

Here is a cutting from an East Grinstead newspaper from 1984. Councillors had just decided to hold prayers at their town council meetings. Not everyone agreed though.

 

EastGrinstead1984

 

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