ANOTHER council has removed prayers from its agenda, despite
government attempts to shore up the practice. St Albans district
council voted by 34 to 13 last week to remove prayers from the
agenda, although they will still be said before the meeting
Those councillors who voted against
their removal said that the city would be the "biggest loser" if
prayers were dropped. But supporters of the move said prayers
belonged in church, not at council meetings.
At St Paul's, in the city, Canon Tony
Hurle said: "In some ways it is a small move, to put prayers before
the meeting rather than at the start of the meeting, but it is part
of a greater shift in society to put Christianity in the private
rather than the public sphere. It is about marginalising
Christianity to become a matter of private choice, and as such I
regret it very much.
"I understand that some people who are
not Christians find it difficult, but by reducing the influence of
our Christian heritage in this way we are weakening many things
that have shaped our culture. By taking Christianity out of the
public arena, I fear we may lose much more than many people will
The decision by St Albans' council was
taken in the wake of the ruling by a High Court judge earlier this
year, after a legal challenge by the National Secular Society (NSS)
to abolish prayers from the agenda of meetings of Bideford town
council in Devon.
In February, Mr Justice Ouseley ruled
that the prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local
Government Act 1972. He said, however, that prayers could be said
as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend (
News, 17 February).
The Communities Secretary, Eric
Pickles, moved swiftly to bring in powers under the Localism Act to
restore the right of councils to say prayers at meetings. Yet
despite his action, several councils across the country have since
moved to drop prayers. Some have swapped them for a short time of
silent reflection, while others have moved them to before the start
of the meeting.
A spokesman for the Department of
Communities and Local Government said that it was not keeping a
tally of which councils had dropped prayers.