Taxpayers will not pay for prayers

Joseph Bulmer

Bideford Town Council says its High Court fight to retain the saying of prayers will not cost local taxpayers.

BIDEFORD Town Council’s battle in the High Court over the right to say prayers at the start of its meetings will not cost local taxpayers a penny, it stressed this week.

A Judicial Review hearing was held in the High Court earlier this month in a challenge by the National Secular Society on the council’s practice.

Judgement was reserved and no date is yet known.

Following publication of the hearing, the council had received “quite a few” comments about the cost of the case to the taxpayer, said town clerk Heather Blackburn.

“It should, in fact, not cost them anything,” she said.

“The case is being defended by Aughton Ainsworth, a Manchester firm, free of charge. Aughton Ainsworth specialise in human rights and religious freedom cases and have been involved in a number of high profile cases. They offered to represent Bideford Town Council as they felt this would be one such case. They have advised that if the claim was successful, it would have far reaching consequences. It would prevent the council’s involvement in services of remembrances, chaplains would not be able to serve in the armed forces and the coronation oath would have to be abolished.

“In addition, the Christian Institute will indemnify the town council against any adverse cost order which may be made against it.”

The legal action was prompted by former Bideford councillor and atheist Clive Bone, who twice failed to get the council to take prayers off its agenda.

The NSS says prayers at the start of council meetings breach the European Convention of Human Rights and that people of no religion are being indirectly discriminated against.

Its executive director Keith Porteus Wood said they were not seeking to deny anyone the right to pray, but were challenging the appropriateness of prayers being conducted during council meetings.