Brentwood councillors tried to ban faith rallies

A Brentwood Council group tried to ban all religious rallies in the borough – before being told it held one of the biggest religious gatherings in the country this year.

The council’s retail, community and culture panel met to discuss whether religious gatherings or rallies should be allowed to go ahead.

A working group of councillors and officers discussed the issue in July and a report to the panel on September 12 said: “In the original protocol members agreed that political rallies would not be allowed.

Members of the working group felt that religious rallies should also be added to the exemption list, and therefore recommend that religious rallies were not permitted on council- owned land.”

During the panel’s discussions members recommended that no gatherings or rallies should take place in the borough in an attempt to exclude any groups considered to be extremist.


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However, other councillors pointed out that by default it would mean no religious groups would be able to meet in public at all.

This would affect Remembrance Day services, outdoor nativity performances, Songs of Praise gatherings and Easter parades.

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It would also prevent any gatherings such as the Transforming Presence, which was held by the Bishop of Chelmsford Rev Stephen Cottrell in January and was attended by 2,000 people – making it one of the biggest religious gatherings in the country.

Advice

The panel eventually agreed to seek legal advice.

At a meeting of councillors, Cllr Keith Parker said: “In this statement here everyone is banned. It’s not a very British way of doing it. You don’t ban religion. I think it’s wrong, totally wrong.”

Cllr Lionel Lee added: “We are talking about a mass of people who want to hold a rally. We [the working group] did discuss this event and we couldn’t find a definition of it. So we said no to it all. We said if it’s going to cause a problem we have to say no to all groups meeting.”

Cllr Russell Quirk said: “The Human Rights Act gives the fundamental right to congregate and you cannot stop people on public land congregating.”

Cllr David Tee, who is also a lay reader for the Church of England, said: “The first Sunday in October I take over the whole Green and 30 to 40 people came to have their horse blessed.

“I don’t know if that counts as a religious gathering.

“On Good Friday we walk down the High Street. Will you stop the walk too? There’s quite a lot of things going on quietly that I wouldn’t dream of stopping.”

Cllr Roger Keeble said: “I was on the committee, but now I’m thinking about Remembrance Service and does this mean you can’t do it? I’m erring on the other side.”

This week Cllr David Tee said: “I was pretty sure that they didn’t want to stop churches going out for Songs of Praise, but that is what they would have ended up banning.”

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