Friday, 14 March 2008

The Telegraph: Stop prayers or face being sued, council told

A town council is being advised to stop prayers before meetings or face the threat of legal action under race discrimination or human rights laws.

The warning has come from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

Bideford town council in Devon has been told by the association that councillors and members of the public could argue that their right to practise any religion could be infringed by the saying of short Christian prayers before meetings.

Bideford council was planning to hold a meeting to discuss a possible ban but it is understood the matter will be adjourned until Hazel Blears, the Local Government Secretary, has made the Government's position clear.

NALC has urged the authority to stop the traditional practice of prayers before council meetings to "eliminate any risk" of challenge in the courts.

An email sent to Bideford council outlines Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."

In January Bideford council voted to keep the pre-meeting prayers after a Liberal Democrat councillor tabled a motion to scrap them.

Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, who is a QC, criticised the NALC, saying its advice "is quite simply misleading and wrong".

Mr Cox added: "This situation is proof of a disturbing tendency to try to use spurious legal arguments under the Human Rights Act and equality legislation to eliminate the Christian faith from the fabric of our public life." Read more
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