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Eric Pickles’s comments on ‘bigoted secularists’

by
17 April 2015

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From Mr Keith Porteous Wood

Sir, - In "Pickles glad to have taken on 'secularist bigots'" (News, 10 April), Eric Pickles expresses his gladness in enabling "prayers before a council meeting", despite the National Secular Society's pointing out on numerous occasions, and to him in person, that we had actually suggested prayers before council meetings to both Bideford and the High Court as a way forward. Such prayers were legal before the High Court action and remain so after it.

So, why was so much of his Department's and Parliament's time wasted on this Bill? He states that it "wasn't really [my emphasis] about me wanting to proselytise Christianity". Not everyone buys that.

Councillors are not elected to pray, and prayer shouldn't be imposed on them. I agree with Mr Pickles that "it is a sign of a civilised society if people who have no faith are respected," and for me that also applies to those of other faiths than the prayers being said; that was partly why we brought our action.

Mr Pickles claims that "expressions of faith in public life need not lead to conflict . . . so long as people demonstrated" respect. But, as he knows, they have caused difficulties. For example, a Muslim councillor in Reigate and Banstead leaving the chamber during Christian prayers was asked to "consider leaving the country", and a Christian councillor in Portsmouth left the chamber in protest at Muslim prayers.

Prayers during meetings are needlessly divisive in an increasingly multi-religious and non-religious society.

We are not seeking to "stamp out religion", as he claims: we stand up for freedom of religion and belief, and would not support the imposition of atheist observance on councillors either.

The criticism of judges by government ministers unhappy about their decisions is normally confined to banana republics that are not overly fastidious about the rule of law. Yet, since the High Court action, Mr Pickles has complained about "judicial activism".

I don't think it is us who are "deeply bigoted and deeply illiberal".

KEITH PORTEOUS WOOD
National Secular Society
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

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