Council prayers are ruled illegal

Formal prayers could be banned before local council meetings across the country after a top judge today ruled that the practice was illegal.

Formal prayers could be banned before local council meetings across the country after a top judge today ruled that the practice was illegal.

The move has been criticised by the chaplain who leads prayers before Telford & Wrekin Council’s meetings, who said he feared British culture was being ‘undermined’. The National Secular Society won its test case at the High Court.

The case was brought against Bideford Town Council in Devon, which had religious prayers on agendas.

Today Mr Justice Ouseley ruled it was illegal to have prayers as a formal part of any council meeting.

The NSS brought the action in July 2010 after being contacted by atheist Clive Bone, who was then a Bideford councillor.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Ouseley said: “The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a council is not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.”

The judge gave the town council permission to appeal. But he added in a second declaration the saying of prayers before a formal meeting was lawful.

Reverend Keith Osmund-Smith, co-ordinating chaplin for Telford and Wrekin, has led prayers at the borough council for five years.

He said: “This judgement has given me a feeling something about our British culture is being undermined. An uncomfortable feeling that things are not as they are meant to be.

“People should be allowed to go about their faiths without it being dictated by any pressure group or even by courts. I feel the courts should not get involved.”