Council may have to abandon prayers following court case

IMPLICATIONS of a High Court ruling that prayers at council meetings are ‘unlawful’ are being investigated by Horsham District Council.

The council has a prayer from a guest or councillor at the start of each full council meeting.

However, a national test cast to outlaw the practice was won last week by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor.

They challenged Bideford town council in Devon having prayers on meeting agendas.

The Bideford councillor, a non-believer, contacted the society, which launched a legal challenge in July 2010.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Friday Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, ruled: “The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a council is not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.’’

Society lawyers argued the prayers ‘indirectly discriminated against’ council members who were not religious, in breach of human rights laws but the case was won on local government legislation.

A spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “We’re looking into the implications of the outcome of the ruling.

“No decision has yet been made as to how this will affect Horsham District Council’s procedures.”

According to the Telegraph, Rt Revd Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, urged his local councils to use a ‘loophole’ in the decision.

“It [the High Court decision] merely says that the 1972 Local Government Act does not give a statutory power to local authorities to say prayers within a council meeting,” he said.