However in Devon, Bideford Town Council is in court today over their custom of saying prayers before meetings.
The National Secular Society is taking the council to court on behalf of one of its councillors, Clive Bone who as an atheist claims he is embarrassed and disadvantaged at having to either sit through the event or leave the room.
Now personally, if I was him I would not turn up until the prayers were over, which if it exposed him to disciplinary action would make a perfect discrimination case to test.
However the discomfort of one atheist is not really the issue. Presumably, Bideford’s population contains no Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans or Druids concerned that their council tax is funding these councillor’s daily conversation with their particular invisible friend. What will they do if someone gets elected who is not an atheist but a devout member of another faith? Get an Imam in to lead a prayer to Allah? I doubt it.
The NSS puts it this way…
The NSS contends that the saying of prayers in what should be a secular environment concerned with civic business is inappropriate and could put off people of other religions and none from taking part in an important democratic activity.Which seems fair enough to me. In a rational world this wouldn’t even be an issue, whether it’s legal or not a council chamber is not a church (or a mosque/synagogue) and should not be wasting its time in prayer or tax payer’s money defending this case.
I’m predicting that the council will win this one and get to keep their prayers as the NSS are going into this on Human Rights grounds, which despite the mythos of the right wing press is not the legal panacea they claim.
The NSS case is
· those of no religion were being indirectly discriminated against without justification (and this unlawfully)In America the secularists would win this hands down but in good old Anglican Britain I can’t see it.
· the Council’s actions breach Articles 9 and/or 14 of The European Convention on Human Rights (right to freedom of conscience and protection from discrimination)
· the Council has no power to conduct prayers