Prayers stay off agenda

The town council that fought for its prayers will not add them to formal proceedings until the powers of the Localism Act are confirmed.

DESPITE the apparent overturning of a High Court ruling by the fast-tracking of the Localism Act, Bideford Town Council is reluctant to reintroduce prayers to its formal proceedings.

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, announced on Friday that the new act passed by Parliament would put the decision on saying prayers back into the hands of local authorities in time for Easter.

But Councillor Trevor Johns, Mayor of Bideford, is dubious about re-introducing prayers until it is officially confirmed by a judge that the council would not be in contempt of court.

Mr Johns said: “We will still hold prayers five minutes before the agenda begins, but we will hold them in the council chamber rather than the Mayor’s Parlour as we have done recently; I don’t see why we should feel we have been kicked out.

“The council will not vote on reintroducing prayers to formal proceedings until we have confirmation that the new act overturns the judge’s rulings; it is all a bit ambiguous at the moment.

“I believe Cornwall County Council had prayers on its formal agenda, so really they are the test case now and I would like to see what happens with that first.”

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In January the council lost its fight to say prayers during meetings in a High Court case brought by former town councillor Clive Bone and the National Secular Society. Judge Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Should the Localism Act overturn this decision, the vote on reinstating prayers could be made by the council at the next full meeting in May.

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