Call for council to ditch prayers from meeting backed by national campaign
PUBLISHED: 15:04 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:31 18 July 2019
National Secular Society
A bid to remove prayers from council chamber in Norfolk has been backed by a national campaign to separate the church from the state.
On Monday, Independent county councillor Mick Castle will table a motion at County Hall to eliminate prayers from the start of council meetings - in favour of an optional multi-faith service to be held before the council convenes.
Mr Castle's motion has now prompted the National Secular Society - an organisation which campaigns to separate politics from religion - to urge the council to heed his call.
Stephen Evans, the organisation's chief executive has written to Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor calling for him to support the motion - a letter also sent to every other member of the council.
In this, he wrote: "We believe local government meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, irrespective of their personal beliefs.
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"Council meetings are best conducted without anyone feeling compelled to participate in prayers, or feeling excluded, or that they have to absent themselves from any part of the meeting."
Mr Evans added that should councillors wish to retain a similar practice at the start of meetings, that a moment of quiet reflection would be more appropriate.
He added: "Continuing a practice simply for the sake of tradition can not be justified if that tradition is exclusionary or divisive. This is why increasing numbers of councils have opted to dispense with prayers.
"The absence of prayers from meetings in no way impedes the religious freedoms of believers or denies anybody the right to pray. However, the inclusion of organised worship in a council setting leads to believers imposing acts of worship those that do not share their faith."
However, in response to this letter, Thomas Smith, Conservative councillor for Gaywood South, described the motion as "mischievously malicious".
He said: "We are not a secular country, we have an established church. No member is compelled to pray, only to show the basic manners of politeness.
"Equally I have a duty to support my residents who would like their councillors to be reminded of such values as honesty that our central tenets of Christianity, whether or not they are Christians."