Prayer ruling ‘disgraceful’ says councillor

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A HIGH Court ruling banning prayers during council meetings has been branded ‘disgraceful’ by a councillor.

But it was claimed the controversial decision will not make any difference in Portsmouth, because the prayers have never been included on the formal agenda.

Following a test case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist ex-councillor against Bideford Town Council, in Devon, the tradition has been judged to be unlawful.

Outspoken Christian councillor Malcolm Hey – who came under fire last year for refusing to stay in the council chamber during an Islamic prayer – said the decision was not what most people wanted.

‘It is disgraceful really,’ he said. ‘A real attack on a helpful institution by the National Secular Society.

‘We have a history of Christian worship in this country. It is part of our tradition and the great majority of people are happy with that.

‘God rules the world and the universe but he is also concerned about every decision we take in the council chamber.

‘I don’t think we can just turn to him at times of national crisis.’

Leader of the council’s Labour group, Jim Patey, said as far as he knew no one had complained about the prayers.

‘I’m somewhat old-fashioned,’ he said. ‘I grew up with this system, and it has been part of the way at the city council.

He added: ‘It’s not as though we have lots of diverse religions in the chamber, no one has complained here. If someone is offended then that is a problem, but that hasn’t happened.’

But the leader of the council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has sent a letter to all councillors saying that nothing will change.

Lib Dem deputy leader Hugh Mason said: ‘I think it does nothing to change the way in which Portsmouth City Council goes about its meetings because we have never had them during the formal agenda part of the meeting.’