Council takes God off agenda

Civic leaders fear High Court ruling

PRAYERS have been removed from official Sidmouth Town Council business after the long-standing tradition was branded unlawful.

The holy act has been ‘taken off’ future agendas as civic leaders fear falling foul of a High Court ruling.

Members have been told they’ll have to attend meetings five minutes early if they want to partake in worship.

Prayers have been a staple of - and the first item on - civic agendas for decades.

Ministers have historically attended meetings, issued a blessing for councillors, and invited all in attendance to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“Prayers won’t be on the agenda as usual from next month,” said town council chairman Stuart Hughes.

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“I don’t want to flout the law, so we’re going to have them five minutes before meetings.

“It’s a bit sad really, prayers have always been part and parcel of council meetings in the 20 odd years I’ve been attending them. It seems a shame.”

Atheist, Councillor Simon Pollentine, has respected the prayers process in the 30 years he has intermittently been a councillor.

He said: “For me, to have the prayers before the meeting, seems the way to do it.

“While, as an atheist, I find it slightly galling that religion automatically takes its place on a council agenda, it certainly doesn’t worry me.

“I’m there to be a councillor – and that’s why I want to be there. There are much more important things for us to talk about and bigger battles to fight.”

Sidmouth Parish Church rector, the Reverend David James (pictured), said the move wouldn’t deter ministers from attending meetings.

“I understand the council has to take account of this judgement. It’s good they still want to precede talks with prayer,” he said.

“It’s been the way the council has conducted its business for a very long time.

“We pray for things we hope everybody would wish to happen – that the councillors act with integrity to the benefit of all.”

Mr Justice Ouseley last week set a precedent when he ruled that Bideford Town Council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said at meetings.

He added they could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend.

Secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, said he believed that - under the Localism Act - councils ought to be allowed to say prayers.

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