Outrage in Havering as council prayers ruled illegal

High Court decision is illiberal and intolerant – Pickles

�Havering Council may be forced to stop saying prayers at council meetings as a result of a High Court ruling.

The National Secular Society and a former councillor in Devon succeeded last week in a bid to have Christian prayers at council meetings ruled illegal under the Local Government Act 1972.

All councils across England and Wales – including Havering, which holds prayers at the start of full council meetings – now have to review what they do in light of the ruling.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “There is no longer a respectable argument that Britain is a solely Christian nation, or even a religious one.

Minority faiths

“An increasing proportion of people are not practising any religion and minority faiths are growing in number and influence.”

Most Read

But councillors and clergy have criticised the ruling.

Council leader Cllr Michael White (Conservative, Squirrels Heath) said: “The judgment might force us to do something else, but I’d very much like to continue with them.

“I think it helps us to reflect on what we, as a council, are doing, and should help us to respect each other more in council meetings.

“I think it should be down to each council to decide, and we haven’t had anybody object to it previously.”

Opposition leader Cllr Clarence Barrett (Residents’ Association, Cranham) said: “This is something that could easily be resolved by compromise and common sense rather than through the courts.

“One wonders where this could all end up. How long before the motto of the British monarch ‘Dieu et mon droit’ comes under threat because it translates as ‘God and my right’?”

Father David Anderson, the vicar at St Edward’s Church, Market Place, Romford, is one of the local clergymen who take it in turns to say prayers at council meetings.

He pointed out: “Anyone from a secular society or something similar has the opportunity to stay away from the prayers at council meetings.

“I’ve never had any complaints from anyone about them.

“Most people don’t regard it as an issue. It’s just so far removed from the issues they have in their lives.”

Communities secretary Eric Pickles described the ruling as “illiberal and intolerant” and pledged to help councils continue with the prayers.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter