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Eric Pickles restores the right for councils to say prayers

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 20, 2012

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has moved to restore the legal basis for councils to hold prayers at the start of business.

After the High Court ruling that local authorities could not hold prayers during meetings, Mr Pickles said he was “effectively reversing” the judgment.

He has fast-tracked the implementation of a general power of competence – contained in last year’s Localism Act – enabling councils to do anything an individual can do that is not illegal.

Mr Pickles believes this will render the High Court ruling – which followed objections to prayers at Bideford Town Council in Devon – irrelevant.

Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, ruled earlier this month that councils lacked power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 to hold prayers “as part of a formal local authority meeting”.

The National Secular Society and atheist ex-councillor Clive Bone had argued that Bideford council was acting unlawfully by putting prayers on meeting agendas.

It is understood the ritual dates back in Bideford to the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the council has recently voted twice to retain it.

On Saturday, Mr Pickles said: “The High Court judgment has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council.

“By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.

“Last week’s case should be seen as a wake-up call. For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned.”

The general power of competence for councils was meant to take effect from April, but Mr Pickles signed a parliamentary order on Saturday bringing it in immediately.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said larger councils would be able to continue with prayers although smaller councils, including Bideford, would have to wait until March. It is only available to councils in England.

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  • tomgreen1234  |  February 20 2012, 11:19PM

    The ritual goes back to Queen Elizabeth I so why shouldn't they retain it. What is wrong with saying a few prayers before the council meeting, not sure why so many 'experts' seem to think its such a bad thing. If people don't want to partake in the prayers they can just stand there and watch, participation is not mandatory. Big fuss about nothing if you ask me. GET OVER IT.

  • tomgreen1234  |  February 20 2012, 10:52PM

    Absolutely agree with accom. What is going on here?

  • accom  |  February 20 2012, 2:31PM

    Whatever happened to the separation of powers? If Parliament make a law then the Courts have to apply it, and that's all that's happened here. It's disgraceful that politicians can just "overrule" courts whenever they don't like something, that smacks of a dictatorship.

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