AN international law firm has offered to defend Bideford Town Council’s right to say prayers at its meetings — free of charge.
The National Secular Society intends to seek a Judicial Review to end the council’s practice of saying prayers on the grounds that it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.
The council will consider tomorrow (Thursday) night whether to accept the offer of the law firm which could save it up to �25,000 if the matter goes to court.
Town clerk George McLauchlan said he understood that the firm would indemnify the council however far it went, including the assistance of a QC.
After receiving legal notice of the National Secular Society’s intention the council held an extra-ordinary meeting and decided to do nothing, allowing the issue to proceed to the next stage of the procedure.
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Mr McLauchlan then told members 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.
The NSS move follows failed attempts by Bideford councillor Clive Bone to have prayers removed from the council agendas.
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On its website the NSS says: “The National Secular Society is concerned that many — maybe even the majority — of local councils in this country start their meetings with Christian prayers.
“We think it is inappropriate that non-believers and those of other religions taking part in local democracy are put in the difficult and potentially embarrassing position of having to decide whether to participate or pointedly not participate.
“We are not seeking to restrict freedom of worship. If some council members wish to pray, we think that should be a private matter for themselves and there is no problem with them doing so before council meetings.
“We do, however, think it unreasonable to insist that anyone’s religious beliefs should be imposed on others. Religious worship has no place in a secular debating chamber that exists to serve all sections of the community, regardless of their religious beliefs, or indeed lack of them.”