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 Council Prayers unlawful rules High Court 
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Council Prayers unlawful rules High Court
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The High Court today ruled that "The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue". The judgement follows a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society.The judgement follows a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society to challenge the practice of prayers as part of the formal business of council meetings in Bideford Town Council (Devon).

The ruling will apply to the formal meetings of all councils in England and Wales, the majority of which are thought to conduct prayers as part of their meetings. It does not, contrary to a recent report, extend more widely to "the role religious worship plays in public places", for example remembrance services, or councilors voluntarily attending them.

In passing judgement, the Head of the Administrative Court, Mr Justice Ouseley, directed: "I do not think the 1972 Act [...] should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors".

Commenting on the judgment, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said:

"Acts of worship in council meetings are key to the separation of religion from politics, so we're very pleased with the judgement, and the clear secular message it sends - particularly the statement made about the 1972 Act (quoted in the preceding paragraph).

"We believe that council meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all councillors, regardless of their religious beliefs, or indeed, lack of belief.

"The NSS is not seeking to deprive those who wish to pray the opportunity to do so; indeed, we fight to retain freedom of religion and belief. The judgement clearly states that religious freedoms are not hindered, as councillors who wish to do so are free to say prayers before council meetings.

"Our interest in this issue was prompted by a complaint from a Bideford Town Councillor, Clive Bone, who felt uncomfortable at having to sit through prayers, homilies and requests for divine guidance while carrying out his formal duties as an elected councillor. The only alternative to this discomfort was to walk out, unbidden by the mayor, which would look discourteous to those in the public gallery.

"We sought the Judicial Review only after Bideford had rejected compromises made by (now former) Councillor Bone and the NSS for prayers before the meeting, or a period of silence during the meeting. Bideford had also rejected legal advice from the National Association of Local Government and our lawyers that the practice could be unlawful. If Bideford had agreed to cease their practice of (Christian) prayers during the meetings, there would have been no basis for this action. Bideford was indemnified from costs and supported by the Christian Institute. There was no question of prosecuting councillors.

"The judgement echoed an admirably secular passage in the judgment by LJ Laws in McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd (2010), which a number of equality cases have also cited: 'The precepts of any one religion, and belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of another. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.'"

Prayers have been the cause of tension in a number of local councils. When Portsmouth Council allowed a Muslim Imam to say a prayer, one Christian councillor walked out of the meeting, later saying "I do not believe we are praying to the same god". Meanwhile, councillors in Shropshire called a fellow councillor "disgusting" when he wore headphones during prayers.

Putting the judgment in a wider context, Mr Porteous Wood added: "This judgment is an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society, one that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it. This is particularly important for activities which are part of public life, such as council meetings.

"There is no longer a respectable argument that Britain is a solely Christian nation or even a religious one. An increasing proportion of people are not practising any religion and minority faiths are growing in number and influence. This underlines the need for shared civic spaces to be secular and available to all, believers and non-believers alike, on an equal basis."

The defendant has requested permission to appeal.

Full judgement to follow shortly.

Read a full report of the hearing held on 2 December 2011

Well done to the NSS!

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February 10th, 2012, 11:25 am
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and the judgement.

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February 10th, 2012, 1:07 pm
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That's great. Thank you for posting it. I wouldn't have known about it otherwise.


February 10th, 2012, 2:23 pm
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Excellent news - I frightened the cat by whooping when I heard this on R4 this morning :innocence:

Even more sweet that the Christian Institute lost :laughter:


February 10th, 2012, 2:30 pm
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I know, Fia, isn't it wonderful? The news is on the lunchtime radio. :D


And the Institute have just lost their appeal against providing B & B for gay couples too.

:party:


February 10th, 2012, 2:40 pm
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Quote:
The defendant has requested permission to appeal.
The "Christian" institute really are brain dead.

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February 10th, 2012, 3:01 pm
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Quote:
Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.
Err ... No. They have been penalised for trying to impose their beliefs on other people in what is effectively their place of work.

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February 10th, 2012, 7:43 pm
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Tetenterre wrote:
Quote:
Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.
Err ... No. They have been penalised for trying to impose their beliefs on other people in what is effectively their place of work.
Does the fact that this is also their private property and their home not count, Steve? Would you want a fundamentalist religionista insisting on proclaiming "grace" at the table, at every meal, in any hotel or guest house you owned? You would not be able to discriminate against him any more than they could discriminate against those who did something their belief was against.

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February 10th, 2012, 8:20 pm
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Back to the prayers in councils: there was some twit of an MP on R4 earlier saying that the ruling would be reversed on appeal, can't remember why he was so sure. He, at first, kept on about it being correct that the prayers were part of the formal procedure and implied that all members should be present. But later he started saying that those that did not want to pray could come in later, IIRC he said this is what happens in parliament.

Before him was the usual idiot saying that Christianity and religion (not necessarily synonymous) are so much a part of the countries tradition and "fabric" that they could not and should not be separated. So let's go back to worshipping the Sun and the Moon and the gods of the hunt and all those entities that have a far longer, and wider, history in humanity than any present religion - surely that makes them an even deeper part of our "fabric"

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February 10th, 2012, 9:22 pm
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Dave B wrote:
Tetenterre wrote:
Quote:
Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.
Err ... No. They have been penalised for trying to impose their beliefs on other people in what is effectively their place of work.
Does the fact that this is also their private property and their home not count, Steve? Would you want a fundamentalist religionista insisting on proclaiming "grace" at the table, at every meal, in any hotel or guest house you owned?
A guest house is not a "private property", it is a business. No, if I ran a guest house, I wouldn't particularly like a religionista proclaiming grace at meals, but I'd not try to prevent him/her doing so unless s/he was making demands of other guests (or me) for some recognition of it or upsetting other guests. There are lots of things I encounter in life that I don't like, but that does not give me the right to curtail the freedom of others.

Re the OP, the Xians on BBC Any Questions tonight entirely missed the point when this issue arose. As usuaul, they misrepresent a removal of privilege as an attack on rights. No surprises there.

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February 10th, 2012, 10:08 pm
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Just so I can get this clear in my mind - for it has been something that has bothered me a little for some time - dis your statement
Quote:
A guest house is not a "private property", it is a business.
a legal definition, Steve?

Quote:
... or upsetting other guests.
leaves it open to say that gays holding hands in public might "upset other guests".

I am not trying to justify discrimination but it has to be a level playing field where the deep feelings or emotional sensitivities are concerned. In fact I doubt that it is almost impossible to create that level playing field, to protect everyone's freedom of action or thought because conflicts are inevitable. Who said something like, "One person's freedom is another cage"? (No-one according to Google! But there are other quotes with a similar meaning about terrorist/freedom fighter etc.)

Unless the law has changed the landlord of a public house ("public house" has (had?) a definition in law) has total control over who is allowed to enter or remain on those premises, he or she can ban any person for any legal reason. This was in order to ban trouble makers. That "legal reason" is the catch - gays could not be banned unless they deliberately behaved in a manner liable to create a disturbance of the peace (as I remember the law when I worked in pubs). Now, it might take a court case to define what constitutes such behaviour I agree.

"Hotel" and "inn" are more like business premises, even if the owner lives there as well. I seem to remember that "guest houses" were defined as private houses that invited guests to stay on a paying basis - different beast altogether. But maybe the definitions have changed in the last 30 odd years!

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February 10th, 2012, 10:43 pm
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Ah, it was the pesky Pickles who was saying that he would get the court ruling reversed it seems.

Image

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February 10th, 2012, 11:11 pm
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Quote:
dave
A guest house is not a "private property", it is a business.
a legal definition, Steve?
It's been through the courts Dave and the consensus is, it's a business.
I know it's a Cliché but what if they said no blacks or Irish?

I don't think any more needs to be said on this subject, discrimination is discrimination in whatever form.

Edit.
A Public house and a B&B are not the same thing and don't come under the same rules/regulations.

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February 10th, 2012, 11:40 pm
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Dave B wrote:
Tetenterre wrote:
Quote:
Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.
Err ... No. They have been penalised for trying to impose their beliefs on other people in what is effectively their place of work.
Does the fact that this is also their private property and their home not count, Steve? Would you want a fundamentalist religionista insisting on proclaiming "grace" at the table, at every meal, in any hotel or guest house you owned? You would not be able to discriminate against him any more than they could discriminate against those who did something their belief was against.
Surely there's a big difference: the gay couple were discriminated against because of simply what they were, not what they did or even might do. An evangelical saying grace (out loud, presumably) directly affects everyone in the room.

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February 11th, 2012, 12:30 am
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The Daily Mail is nothing if not predictable: http://twitpic.com/8i4vmv

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February 11th, 2012, 12:37 am
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Summat strange happened there . . .

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February 11th, 2012, 10:55 am
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Quote:
It's been through the courts Dave and the consensus is, it's a business.
OK, Alan C, if the courts say so I am sure it is correct . . .

Alan, H, point taken, but I am sure you have stayed in guest houses with very thin walls, people can be rather noisy when, er, in their passion, which can be annoying in any event when you want to sleep and can't because of their noise. To have that imposed on one by people indulging in acts that are against one's beliefs? Those beliefs are legal providing they do not stray into acts of hatred, but it is the case, now, that they are also discriminatory.

Sounds like the, "Let's keep religion part of public life," brigade are getting on their hind legs in a big way now according to the news.

Re the Daily Wail piece: I see no-one trying to put a stop to the right to practice any religion - it is a case of where and when !

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February 11th, 2012, 11:00 am
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Re council prayer ...........
I have not studied the actually wording from the court but no one seems to see the difference between saying prayers before a meeting and saying them at a meeting (with them actually on the agenda).
I read somewhere that people who wish may stay out until the prayers have been said, but surely they would then be absent from the meeting if 'prayers' were actually on the agenda.
I see the whole thing as only a minor victory. It is not prayers that have been banned but the putting of them on the agenda - that is all.


February 11th, 2012, 11:29 am
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Dave B wrote:
Alan, H, point taken, but I am sure you have stayed in guest houses with very thin walls, people can be rather noisy when, er, in their passion, which can be annoying in any event when you want to sleep and can't because of their noise. To have that imposed on one by people indulging in acts that are against one's beliefs?
AFAIK, gays are not obliged to have noisy sex, and heterosexual couples do not always have quiet sex, but if noise is the problem, then it can be dealt with as a noise problem!

Quote:
Those beliefs are legal providing they do not stray into acts of hatred, but it is the case, now, that they are also discriminatory.
Homosexuality is also perfectly legal. But their beliefs are not discriminatory per se, just how they apply them to others in the course of providing a service to the public..

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February 11th, 2012, 12:07 pm
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jaywhat wrote:
Re council prayer ...........
I have not studied the actually wording from the court but no one seems to see the difference between saying prayers before a meeting and saying them at a meeting (with them actually on the agenda).
I read somewhere that people who wish may stay out until the prayers have been said, but surely they would then be absent from the meeting if 'prayers' were actually on the agenda.
I see the whole thing as only a minor victory. It is not prayers that have been banned but the putting of them on the agenda - that is all.
That was one of the things I was trying to work out. Pickles seemed to say first that it was part of the formal structure of council meetings (mandatory) and later optional. But then, it was Pickles . . .

Yeah, let the religionistas waste their breath in private then get on with the real world (not that, in my experience, many councils are much in touch with the world outside of their own politics.)

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February 11th, 2012, 12:35 pm
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