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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Praying the game

Why are councillors elected to be councillors? Well, to get decent roads, decent schools, decent housing, efficient refuse collection and – well, you know all that.

But some barmy Tory in London has got it into his mangled brain that they should pray, too. Yes, it's their duty to attend council prayers.

According to a story on the This Is Local London website, there's a row going on in Hillingdon Council about the fact that some members decided not to go to the mumbo-jumbo bit at the start of the meeting.

Councillor Doug Mills, a Conservative cabinet member, was answering a question about community cohesion at a meeting of the council and accused some Labour councillors of ignoring their duties to all their constituents by not attending the prayer session.

"They have a duty to respect all religions," he pontificated, "and I think their failure to turn up regularly to prayers is not a sign of that respect."

Then he trotted out this argument: "If it had been a Muslim doing prayers and we Conservatives had stayed outside, they would accuse us of being racist."

Unfortunately, some people would, because they're as barmy as you are, Councillor Mills. But they'd be talking bollocks all the same. Apart from the religion-is-not-a-race argument, which we secularists have to trot out ad nauseam because it never seems to get through to the Islam appeasers, what Labour councillors would have said if this or that had or had not happened is not an argument, and probably couldn't be proved, anyway.

The fact is, Councillor Mills, you're saying councillors have a duty to their constituents to do the ridiculous talking-to-an-invisible-friend thing, just because there are people in their wards who do the same? What about cross-dressing half the time because some of their voters are of the other sex? Perhaps they should vote both ways in committee and council debates because many of their constituents would go one way and many the other?

The prayers are there for the councillors. The great unwashed out there couldn't give a rat's arse, and most wouldn't even know, if you decided to start the meeting with a hearty rendering of "Roll Out the Barrell", as long as you then got down to business and improved the roads and the schools.

Apart from the fact that time shouldn't be wasted on prayers (if they want to gather for a prayer beforehand, I'm sure there's an anteroom somewhere they could use, and get together ten minutes before the start of the meeting), what if the councillors simply don't do religion? Wouldn't praying be sheer hypocricy?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Just thought that this may be interesting:

Campaign to end the discriminatory practice of having prayers at Council meetings

Do you know that your local Council starts its meetings with prayers? If you say that to most people nowadays they think that you are joking.

Devon Humanists today announce the launch of a campaign to end the discriminatory practice of having prayers at Council meetings. Spokesman for Devon Humanists, Keith Denby said “The history of local Councils in Britain goes back to Saxon times and in the distant past the Church was very much a part of local administration, so to begin a Council meeting with prayers would have been very natural. But now in the 21st Century, Council taxpayers come from many cultures and belief systems and a large proportion of them do not think that religion should have influence in politics.

According to an IPSOS/Mori poll in 2006, 'more people think that the government pays too much attention to religious groups and leaders than to any other domestic group'. Having prayers at Council meetings is discriminatory even if there is an attempt at multicultural prayers because one or another group will always be left out. The only sensible thing is to do away with them altogether and for people of faith to express that faith in private, not in the public domain.”

Keith Denby continued “Having prayers at meetings is genuinely off-putting for many people, from the outside it looks as if you need to be part of a special clique to participate in local government either as a member of the public or as a prospective councillor for election. The standing of local Councils is diminished by this gulf of understanding between tax payers and their governing Councils.”

Members of Devon Humanists will be writing to local Councils to ask them to stop having prayers at meetings. Modern equality and anti-discrimination laws will be cited to show that Councils that continue with prayers at meetings are in breach of the law and of guidance from their own advisory bodies. The legal department of the National Association of Local Councils has written that the 'Council should consider removing the saying of prayers to ensure compliance with general statutory duty set out in s. 71 (1) of the 1976 (Race Discrimination) Act and to eliminate any risk of challenge under the Human Rights Act 1998'. Many Councils now expressly state an Equality & Discrimination policy that is directly at odds with continuing to have prayers at Council meetings. In many parts of the country Councils have taken note of their own policy statements and have ceased prayers but a surprising number – even the new unitary authorities - have retained prayers as 'being traditional'.

The campaign is supported by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.

The legal situation would be clarified by a suitable test case, and members of Devon Humanists are prepared to embark on such a test case if it should prove necessary.

*Keith Denby* can be contacted telephone 01598 763455.