An atheist organisation is taking a North Devon council to court in a bid to ban its traditional pre-meeting prayers. The National Secular Society (NSS) has campaigned for a judicial review against the Bideford Town Council, which has opened its meetings in prayer for more than 400 years.
The practice, which has been in place since the reign of Elizabeth I, and is practised by nearly 200 councils across Britain, has been targeted by the NSS under the Human Rights Act.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the atheist campaigners believe the practice of prayer contravenes the Act, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion for non-believers.
The NSS want the prayers to be removed from public meetings, and held only by those who profess a faith in a separate room to that of the council meeting. Bideford is the first council to be taken to a judicial review by the NSS.
The Christian Legal Centre said, ‘In a free and civilised society, councils and public bodies should be free to open meetings with prayer’.