Don’t say a prayer - Call for council to scrap pre-meeting worship

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer - Credit: Archant

A call has been made for Norfolk County Council to 'turn the page' on beginning meetings with Christian prayer.

As it stands, the county council holds a short prayer at the start of every full council meeting, in a tradition also observed by some of the region's district councils.

However, next week, the council will debate whether or not to put a stop to the practise, after a motion called for them to be scrapped.

Mick Castle, Independent county councillor for Yarmouth North, Central and Northgate, tabled the motion, saying he felt the time was right to remove the prayers.

He said: "I have no disrespect towards anybody who has strong religious beliefs, but to me it feels they are now a bit of a minority.

Mick Castle. Picture by James Bass

Mick Castle. Picture by James Bass - Credit: Archant

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"When I stand during them I try to be respectful, but in all honestly I don't feel especially marvellous about it. I think there is a time and a place for it and the council chamber isn't one of them."

Instead, Mr Castle has proposed a short, spiritual multi-faith service be held ahead of meetings for those that wish to continue to tradition.

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He added: "We are an increasingly multi-cultural society so personally I feel it is a bit dated in 2019 to be still saying Christian prayers at the start of council meetings.

"I had hoped this wouldn't need a motion - I'd have thought they could have been removed when the call of roll was - however, I think now is the right time to turn the page on it."

If the motion is agreed, it would see County Hall following councils Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Broadland and Breckland in removing them from meetings.

However, North Norfolk District Council, South Norfolk Council and West Norfolk Council all still include prayers in full council meetings.

In 2012, prayers in council chambers were put under threat when an atheist former councillor won a High Court case against Bideford Town Council in Devon over them.

In this, it was ruled local councils lacked power under Section 111 of the Local Government Act of 1971 to hold them as part of meetings, but were permitted to do so informally before meetings.

Following this ruling, Norfolk County Council chose to continue with the tradition.

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