Prayers off the agenda at town council
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Prayers have been voted off Sidmouth Town Council’s agenda in a move to be more inclusive.
Members supported the proposal on Monday night (June 10) by a clear majority, saying the council needed to be forward-thinking and prayers were an 'anachronism'.
Historically, ministers from around the town's churches have opened meetings with a reflection on the council's responsibilities.
Councillor Paul Wright, vice-chairman of the council, proposed either the council stages a moment of reflection or does not have prayers at all.
Cllr Wright said his proposal was not 'anti-religious', adding: "We are a secular council and we are an open and tolerant and forward-looking council who wants to welcome councillors from any religious background or no religion at all.
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"There are Muslims in this town and all the other religions are represented in the town.
"As a town council I think it is useful that we respect that and look at this issue.
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"This is a tradition and I have no idea when it started, it probably started at the very meeting 200 years ago."
Cllr John Rayson said the prayers set a 'great tone' for the meeting and possibly those who wished to pray beforehand could carry them out five minute before the meeting.
He said: "I like the way its done here with the ministers from the different churches coming and I think it gives us a connection with the church which are the main community activity in the town."
The proposal was backed by nine votes with members agreeing losing prayers would possibly encourage people of different faiths to attend council meetings in the future.
Cllr Charissa Evans said: "I agree with the moving forward and welcoming other religions into the chamber and I think you stand more chance if we don't have that kind of start."
Cllr Evans told members that the council respects 'all different religions', meaning members should in turn respect them.
Cllr Kelvin Dent added: "I am a stronger believer in disestablishmentarianism, the separation of the church, and the secular - and to my mind having prayer at a secular corporate meeting seems an anachronism now."
In 2015 the council voted to remove the Lord's Prayer in an attempt to avoid its membership from becoming divided.