DEVON Humanists' Group has launched a campaign calling on local councils to scrap the tradition of prayers before council meetings. The Humanists, whose North Devon group meets at Fremington Parish Hall, are writing to local councils asking them to end th

DEVON Humanists' Group has launched a campaign calling on local councils to scrap the tradition of prayers before council meetings.The Humanists, whose North Devon group meets at Fremington Parish Hall, are writing to local councils asking them to end the practice of prayers before meetings, saying it is discriminatory."The history of local councils in Britain goes back to Saxon times and in the distant past the Church was very much a part of local administration, so to begin a council meeting with prayers would have been very natural," said local member Keith Denby. "But in the 21st century, council tax payers come from many cultures and belief systems and a large proportion of them do not think that religion should have influence in politics."The Humanists say that having prayers at meetings discriminates, because even if there is an attempt at making them multi-cultural, one group or another will always be left out.North Devon District Council assistant chief executive Don Pratt confirmed that a letter had been received, challenging the saying of prayers at meetings on the basis that this did not meet with equality and diversity strategies and asking the council to stop doing so.The views of councillors were now being sought before this was discussed by the council and a decision taken.North Devon Council did have prayers, but people attending or taking part in meetings were not obliged to participate, he pointed out. And not participating did not disqualify them from attending or taking part in the meetings.Council vice-chairman Cllr Jasmine Chesters said the letter seemed dictatorial, trying to dominate what the council did."It was saying that we are keeping people from attending by having prayers," she said. "But people can come to the meetings and, if they don't want to listen to the prayers, they can just wait outside until they are over."* Bideford Town Council has already considered the argument once, after one of its members earlier this year called for an ending of prayers - and it decided to continue them.