Bideford council awaits legal action over prayers

BIDEFORD Town Council has decided that no action is the best way forward in a row over the saying of prayers that has put it under the national spotlight. The council held an extra-ordinary meeting to consider its response to a legal letter from the Natio

BIDEFORD Town Council has decided that no action is the best way forward in a row over the saying of prayers that has put it under the national spotlight.

The council held an extra-ordinary meeting to consider its response to a legal letter from the National Secular Society, informing of its intent to seek a Judicial Review to end the council's practice of saying prayers at meetings on the grounds that it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

The action is seen as one which could have a knock-on effect nationwide.

It was decided by 11 votes for and one abstention that "no action be taken at the current time on this issue and it be allowed to proceed to the next stage of judicial review."


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Town Clerk George McLauchlan told members that it was his understanding that the NSS would have to put its case before a judge, who would then consider whether there was any case to answer. Until then the council should not incur any costs.

If the council ultimately contests the case it is believed the cost could be around �25,000 and the loser might also have to pay the other's costs.

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Cllr Peter Christie suggested "an easy way out." What had been picked up on was that prayers were on the town council's agenda as part of its meeting, he said. Parliament had prayers, but these were held before the start of meetings and Bideford could do the same.

Cllr Clive Bone, who has been behind the moves to end the council's prayers, said what was being argued was a point of law and not beliefs. If the council thought it was legally in the right it could defend itself, but he did not believe it was.

When he joined the council he found it quite shocking to find prayers being said at meetings. There were people who would not stand for council because of prayers, he said. Efforts were being made to open up local government and make it more free and this impediment should be removed.

NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood denies on its website that Bideford Town Council was picked on because it was small and has limited resources. He says they were asked to intervene by a councillor there. "We have no objection to people praying if they want to - but it should not form an integral part of the council meeting," he says.

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