Prayer ruling dispute
Ministers of Parliament and senior figures in the Church of England have condemned a High Court ruling that overturned a local council’s right to pray at the start of meetings.
Speaking to the BBC after the High Court ruled that Devon-based Bideford Town Council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said before their meetings, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said the Christian faith in the UK is facing ‘gradual marginalisation’.
The case had been backed by the National Secular Society (NSS), because an atheist councillor complained about the prayers. Lord Carey said that people hostile to religion were trying to redefine the public role of religious faith.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The test of democracy is how we contain disagreements and particularly contain minorities. Yet religious freedom no longer seems to be a priority. Equalities seem to trump all other kinds of freedom’.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles MP described the ruling as ‘disappointing’ and said Britain ‘remained a Christian country’.
The new Localism Act will give local authorities more power, and could in fact reverse the ban on council prayers. Mr Pickles told the BBC: ‘Local authorities will be in a position to be able to do what they have always done which is to have prayers before a meeting’.
However, this will no doubt meet with stiff opposition, and not just from the NSS. Liberal lobby group the Accord Coalition has said, ‘This ruling should be extended to state-funded schools. There is an important place for religious education in school, but not religious indoctrination. A school can do many things collectively, but it cannot worship collectively’.