We’ll keep on praying, says council leader

29/7/10    CB''Fareham Borough Council ceremony in the Council Chamber for the Investiture of Honorary Aldermen. Pictured is Sean Woodward speaking''Picture: Paul Jacobs  102415-9

29/7/10 CB''Fareham Borough Council ceremony in the Council Chamber for the Investiture of Honorary Aldermen. Pictured is Sean Woodward speaking''Picture: Paul Jacobs 102415-9

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PRAYERS will still take place at the start of a council meeting next week, despite a recent High Court ruling that they could not be part of formal proceedings.

Fareham Borough Council leader, Cllr Sean Woodward, has vowed to carry on with the council’s tradition of starting meetings with prayers despite the High Court ruling.

Anyone who goes against the court could find themselves hauled before magistrates.

The council changed its standing orders in 1989 to make prayers at the start of each full council meeting an item on the agenda. They had previously been an informal part of the council meetings.

But last week, at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Ouseley ruled it was not lawful to say prayers as part of formal meetings under a clause of the Local Government Act 1972.

Although he did rule that they could be held in council chambers before the formal proceedings get under way.

Cllr Sean Woodward, the Tory leader of the council, said he had spoken to several of his colleagues who backed him. He said: ‘Prayers are very much part of our standing orders but that’s now illegal.

‘We will still have prayers next Friday. I am a Christian and many of the councillors are. The Church of England is the established church in this country and many councils start with prayers. It’s part of tradition.

‘I have taken advice from the council’s legal team and they tell me they can’t be included in the agenda, but they will be included anyway.’

Deputy leader Cllr Arthur Mandry added: ‘Councillors and everyone else should be free to enjoy their faith, whatever faith that is.’

The case had been brought by Clive Bone, an atheist and former member of Bideford Town Council in Devon, with the backing of the National Secular Society.

Cllr Woodward added: ‘If I end up in the cells before I can deliver my budget, then so be it.’

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government called the ruling ‘surprising and disappointing.’ The Localism Act, which is due to become law soon, will give councils a general power of competence – allowing them to reinstate prayers before meetings.

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