UK judge bans public prayers

The right of Christian worship in British schools and parliament faced a fresh assault after a High Court banned prayers at council meetings.

In a landmark ruling yesterday on a case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor, formal acts of prayer in the chambers of town and city halls were outlawed by High Court Judge.

Justice Ouseley issued a declaration that there was no "lawful" place for prayer during formal proceedings. It came after Clive Bone, a former member of Bideford council in Devon, brought a legal challenge against the tradition of opening council meetings with prayers.

The Judge ruled that it did not breach Bone's human rights or amount to discrimination. But he nevertheless concluded that it was "not lawful" to say prayers as part of formal meetings under a clause of the Local Government Act 1972.Ministers last night encouraged councils to openly defy a High Court ruling banning public prayers during meetings.

Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, is poised to use new powers to strike down the restrictions, which stems from a legal challenge by an atheist former councillor.

Bishops and MPs last night said that a ruling banning local councils from prayers during meetings was an assault on Britain's Christian heritage.

The National Secular Society, which began the case in July 2010, denied that the ruling was an attack on religion but acknowledged that it was contemplating a move to stop formal prayers at both Houses of Parliament.

Keith Porteous Wood, a spokesman for the society, said: "England and Wales are the only countries in the world to have prayers at Parliament, presumably because the UK is the only country in the world to give clerics, 26 bishops, the right to sit in its legislature," he was quoted as saying in media reports.

"Strange how Britain still is alone in thinking it is appropriate to enforce this by law. We will not give up on this," Wood said.

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