Friday, February 10, 2012

"The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful"

A few months ago, His Grace posted an article on attempts by an aggrieved atheist and former Bideford Town councillor Clive Bone, who was irked that council meeting were preceded by Christian prayers, and so enlisted the support of the National Secular Society to have them outlawed.

Despite Mr Bone no longer being a councillor (and so not suffering alienation, exclusion or discrimination), the High Court has today determined that prayer before a council meeting is indeed unlawful and there 'is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue'. Mr Justice Ouseley said: "I do not think the 1972 Act... should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors."

And so the National Secular Society is victorious, and telling us about it. Indeed, they have doubtless broken out the champagne to celebrate a double victory as the appeal of Peter and Hazelmary Bull has also been lost. The owners of the Chymorvah B&B near Penzance were ordered last year to pay £3,600 in damages to Stephen Preddy and Martyn Hall, a gay couple in a civil partnership who were denied a marital bed. An Englishman's B&B is no longer his castle.

It is important to note that the NSS succeeded in only one of its three lines of argument in the case against Bideford Council, but a win is a win: henceforth, no council in England or Wales will be free to hold prayers as part of its formal proceedings because prayer is deemed 'not useful' to its work.

Speaking for the council, James Dingemans QC pointed out that both local democracy in Bideford and Parliament itself had determined that such prayers may and ought to continue. It would appear that the overarching philosophy of secular-humanist-rights negates democracy. But we already knew that. While this case was not won on the basis of human rights infringement, it is interesting that the NSS is unhelpfully conflating it with the judgement of Lord Justice Laws in the case of McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd (2010), which determined: 'The precepts of any one religion, and belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of another. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.'

Mr Dingemans had warned of 'far-reaching consequences' if the NSS were to succeed. As His Grace wrote some months ago, prayers in Parliament may cease, the Coronation Oath may be endangered, as would a council's involvement on Remembrance Sunday and possibly even chaplains serving in HM Armed Forces. Under the guise of 'neutrality', secularism would become the inviolable and immutable state orthodoxy in the civic space. This would represent a further diminution of the status of the Church of England, and constitute another attack upon the Christian foundations of the nation. NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood is already propagating the 'neutral' lie. He says: "This judgment is an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society, one that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it."

The fact that the Judge has not upheld the complaint on human rights grounds may reprieve parliamentary prayers, the Coronation Oath, Army chaplains and participation in remembrance services. But His Grace is struck by Mr Justice Ouseley's reasoning that council prayers are unlawful because there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue. Have we exchanged an ancient system of law and jurisprudence which was based on statutory prohibition for one which relies on express permission?

Perhaps Eric Pickles – Defender of the Faith - might care to remedy this? He has previously said: "This Government recognises and respects the role that faith communities play in our society. Prayers are an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of the British nation. While the decision on whether to hold prayers is a matter for local councils, we believe they should have the freedom to do so."

Perhaps a permissive clause in the next Local Authority Bill could, in true 'Big Society' fashion, expressly devolve the matter of prayer to the lowest level of democratic participation? What a community does in public or private should be permitted unless the law forbids or restricts it. There should be no restriction on prayer - simply because it poses no threat to public safety, public order, health or morals.

37 Comments:

Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Daniel was a civic official who got instructed he wasn't allowed to pray.

I say continue praying. The lions of the law are not yet so strong that they threaten God however much they roar.

10 February 2012 at 11:47  
Blogger JRW said...

"There should be no restriction on prayer - simply because it poses no threat to public safety, public order, health or morals."

Well that is always true is it...

10 February 2012 at 11:56  
Blogger Sam Vega said...

I am not a Christian, but I can recognise that it is a sad day when the law takes the side of spitefulness. Even though I don't believe, the idea that a group take a few moments to think of their God before making important decisions is a comforting one.

10 February 2012 at 12:23  
Blogger Lazarus said...

Does the Local Government Act 1972 explicitly authorize councils to serve biscuits and tea at meetings? I demand that some judge immediately protects us from the outrageous and archaic imposition of biscuits that also has no place in modern, secular Britain.

10 February 2012 at 12:27  
Blogger Owl said...

"because there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue"

YG, you have, once again, picked up the main point.

We are seeing a reversal of common law. Innocent until proven guilty will soon be a thing of the past as well.

Mr Justice Ouseley is a learned man and must be perfectly aware that his argument is not valid.

Where is he taking his authority from to usurp common law in this way?

Who is allowing him to get away with it and why are they doing it? These would be the first questions which spring to mind.

10 February 2012 at 12:44  
Blogger Oswin said...

I do hope that Clive Bone, and ilk, are at the barricades when the muslim hordes advance; but I instinctively doubt it.

10 February 2012 at 12:52  
Blogger Raybond said...

Does one now have to have a law in order to be able to do something?

Have we so lost the concept of liberty that we are no longer free to act unless it is specifically prohibited? Or have we totally accepted that Continental cancer, school of thought, that renders all acts forbidden unless specifically permitted?

10 February 2012 at 12:59  
Blogger Manfarang said...

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the council meetings and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

10 February 2012 at 13:35  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

@Manfarang: Quite right. That would really be the best way to handle this: all the Christian counsellors should turn up from now onwards and hold "silent prayer" sessions prior to meetings.

I wonder how the NSS would respond?

10 February 2012 at 13:41  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Well, the result of the B&B case comes as no surprise ... other than that it seems to have taken ages to get there. Paragraph 22(38) in the judgement is absolutely key to the case, I think. Paragraph 47 is very interesting too, including (60), and leading on to 48. Paragraph 49 (23) is excellent, it should be written in neon. Paragraph 50, second sentence, makes a very important point for this and future cases. Paragraph 56 is a point well made both at the start and the end. Finally, paragraph 66 has been said many times on forums.

10 February 2012 at 13:52  
Blogger Albert said...

If I were a secularist, I would be ashamed. Secularism is now completely identified with opposing freedom.

10 February 2012 at 13:56  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

@DanJ0: Are you refering to the judgement on the council meetings, or the Bulls? If the former, I'd appreciate a link, as I can't find one.

If the latter, can I just check I'm reading the same document:

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/hall-preddy-bull-judgment.pdf

I can't seem to find a paragraph 66 on this one.

10 February 2012 at 14:27  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

AIB, I got it from the Christian Institute site. There are some links to the right when you open the story.

10 February 2012 at 14:47  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Ah ok - I had the first one. It's the appeal judgement. That would explain my confusion!

Link is here for anyone interested:
http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/bull-v-hall-and-preddy.pdf

10 February 2012 at 14:53  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

Finally found a copy of the judgement pertaining to Bideford:

http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/bideford-judgment-final.pdf

10 February 2012 at 16:38  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Sorry, I was on a PDA ealier so couldn't easily do links. The Bideford one is at the bottom of the NHS page linked in the main article.

10 February 2012 at 16:47  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I'm not really following the Bideford one very well but Paragraph 58 about the [Muslim] checkout operator and alochol is well made, I think. That's a point against Mr Bone btw.

10 February 2012 at 16:50  
Blogger Roger Pearse said...

I'm not sure I consider formal prayers to be very meaningful things. But they are certainly traditional, and hardly intrusive or oppressive, unlike those complaining about them.

If it is not necessary to change something, it is a jolly good idea to leave it alone.

It's a bit funny to have an official church, but to ban official prayers, surely?

10 February 2012 at 17:02  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Your Grace;
Your article reports; The High Court has today determined that prayer before a council meeting is indeed unlawful and there 'is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue'. Mr Justice Ouseley said: "I do not think the 1972 Act... should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councilors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councilors."
This country has an official religion; Protestantism as expressed through the CofE. How can Mr Justice Ouseley say that one religion cannot be more prominent than any other or those without religion? Councils and other institutions work on a majority basis, so if they vote to have prayers at the commencement of their meeting, who is Justice Ouseley to say that they can’t? Does the minority have the decision of the majority overuled? Those mot wishing to take part are not excluded, they exclude themselves

10 February 2012 at 18:27  
Blogger Anglican said...

I know this is an over-simplification, but is not this judgement, and others, changing the fundamental law of this country? The law of this land is English Common Law, in which anything not forbidden is permitted. In Roman Law, on the other hand (as on the continent), anything not specifically permitted is forbidden.

10 February 2012 at 18:57  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I may have misunderstood the Judgement but isn't the permission thing about what the law gives the Council permission to do? That is, it's granting power to the Council to do something that might otherwise not be allowed? In this case, granting powers to nominally call councillors into the chamber at the formal start of the meeting for later prayers. The permission is then about what happens in a formal, structured, legal setting rather than about the liberty of everyone else going about their day to day lives. But perhaps I'm wrong.

10 February 2012 at 19:37  
Blogger Albert said...

Exactly, Anglican. Secularism is a dogmatic ideology. When it becomes allied with the state, it over-turns the assumption that people are free unless it can be shown otherwise, and creates a situation in which people are unfree, unless the state permits it. That the wishes of a democratically elected body should be over-turned in this way is deeply sinister.

In any case, given the ubiquity of prayers in council chambers - especially in 1972 - it is hard to see how, under our unwritten constitution, it wasn't simply assumed that councils have such powers. So there is another way in which secularists have conspired, yet again, against basic freedoms.

10 February 2012 at 19:44  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

It's annoying that these silly white middle class short sighted deprecating atheists who are trying to destroy Christianity in the name of a secular society, don't see that a decade or less down the line it wont be “Our Father which art in Heaven... “ they will be invited to take part in. It will be compulsory “Allahu Akbar” they will have to shout several times a day! We must keep our traditions, it's all part of the British Identity.

10 February 2012 at 21:06  
Blogger Dan said...

"the NSS is unhelpfully conflating it with the judgement of Lord Justice Laws in the case of McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd (2010)"

No, that judgement is mentioned in Ouseley's judgement. The NSS hasn't pulled it out of the air.

10 February 2012 at 21:34  
Blogger Dan said...

Mr Integrity:

"This country has an official religion; Protestantism as expressed through the CofE."

No, this country has an established church, not an "official religion".

10 February 2012 at 21:35  
Blogger Dan said...

Marie1797:

"We must keep our traditions, it's all part of the British Identity."

This comment would be easier to take seriously if it didn't reveal complete ignorance of Britain, let alone contempt for non-Christian Britons.

Wales, after all, disestablished Anglicanism in 1920. Nor is the Church of Scotland a state church; the Queen is not its governor.

I won't take lectures on British and English history from people who know so little about British and English history.

10 February 2012 at 21:41  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

I wasn't and wouldn't dare lecture you on anything Danj0 you are of course omniscient.

Church of Wales although separated from the State and formal influences from England is still very much the same, it is stronger here as we have our own Archbishop. And main language is English.

Your ABC Dr. Rowan Williams is a Welsh and former Bishop of Monmouth and Wales so we are not that separate from England. I'm not sure if prayers are said in all or most council office meetings in Wales though. But should be.

10 February 2012 at 23:39  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

I don't think Dan and DanJ0 are the same person...

@DanJ0 (accept no substitutions): That was my understanding from the cursory read that I made of the judgement. My concern, as outlined above, remains that 1) it's unnecessarily legalistic, and 2) as a consequence, it creates a precedent where, as others have noted, Councils are restricted rather than empowered to determine their own agenda.

If Parliament was actually in the habit of dictating what Councils must discuss, I could in part see the rationale behind Ouseley's judgement, but they aren't, and as a consequence we have a statutory measure being imposed that it isn't clear is intended by the very act he puports to be enforcing.

From a Christian perspective: I would suggest that all the Christian counsellors continue to pray as part of their business, and if the courts wish to silence them, or keep it off the agenda, perhaps one could instead open with a "tea and biscuits" session in which all religious counsellors are mysteriously unable to speak.

11 February 2012 at 00:23  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

AIB said ...
"I don't think Dan and DanJ0 are the same person..."

Confusing them is an easy mistake to make. Both talk rubbish with such supreme confidence.

11 February 2012 at 01:09  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

Besides, what's a little 'jo' between friends?

11 February 2012 at 01:34  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

AIB: "@DanJ0 (accept no substitutions): That was my understanding from the cursory read that I made of the judgement. My concern, as outlined above, remains that 1) it's unnecessarily legalistic, and 2) as a consequence, it creates a precedent where, as others have noted, Councils are restricted rather than empowered to determine their own agenda."

I'm relieved that someone else has read it the same way, all this talk about common law and freedom seems a little over the top to me. I'm not an expert on our legal system but the fact that the case was heard in the Administrative Court ought to give it some form.

I've not really followed the latest Localism Bill and I confess I don't really understand the workings of local government. That said, it feels like there's something of delegated powers about it (a bit like a Statutory Instrument) where the form and boundaries are set by the legislature.

Alternatively, I could see it along the lines of the Companies Act which regulates how private companies are constructed and how they must operate in broad brush terms. The role and activities of (say) the Company Secretary are defined outside the company yet the day to day operation of the company is not.

Hence, the existence of the agenda and its overall form (Apologies, Approval of Minutes of Last Meeting, Main Body, Any Other Business) may be a matter for outside the powers of the body itself. If a Prayers section is in that list rather than part of the Main Body then perhaps it is an administrative matter afterall.

11 February 2012 at 06:28  
Blogger len said...

Atheists do not want to be included in prayers so they ban prayers so that Christians are not allowed to pray before discussing matters which affect the WHOLE Community.

I wonder do Atheists see the hypocrisy of this.?

11 February 2012 at 08:26  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Len: "I wonder do Atheists see the hypocrisy of this.?"

You probably mean secularists rather than atheists. What it looks like to me is that Bone and the NSS want the prayers to be moved out of Council business, not the banning of prayers before business. That's a secular aim and it doesn't matter whether the prayers are to Allah, YHWH, Brahman, Zeus, or Mithras. Part of the argument here is that it is nominally divisive given that local councillors may be of any religion or none, and therefore prayers to one or other of the god or gods is irrelevant to the differently religious others.

I've travelled all over the place and come across all sorts of cultures. When I was travelling in Nepal in a group, we came across a lama, a sort of religious hermit, who lived in a cave with his wife. For 50 rupees each, he undertakes a blessing ritual for people climbing over the nearby ~17000ft high pass. His wife was most insistent I do it (probably for the 50 rupees initially, which I gave her anyway) but I wasn't comfortable [1] yet a Christian travelling with us was quite happy to do it.

Afterwards, I was curious about myself as the ritual is meaningless superstition to me yet I didn't feel right taking part in something I thought was fake. I was very happy to simply watch though. The Christian simply shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing idolatrous in it for him, it was give a personal, human-given blessing as far as he was concerned. I still think it is mere superstitution but I find my adverse reaction a little odd in the scheme of things.

[1] Not least because it involved swallowing some blessed oil/water which I thought may not be clean.

11 February 2012 at 09:57  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Btw, I was the only one who didn't make it over the pass! I got either food poisoning or altitude sickness or both and decided to go back, hot-foot it to the other side by staying on my own in local villages and travelling on local transport, and meet the group a couple of days later coming down. Now, some people might be inclined to read something into that ... but it was one of the best trips of my life in the end because of it, not least because I rode on the roof of a bus through the Himalayas with the wind in my hair, holding onto ropes and ducking under telephone and electricty lines as they whizzed by. Completely voiding any travel insurance, of course. :)

11 February 2012 at 10:09  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Oswin said 10 February 2012 12:52

"I do hope that Clive Bone, and ilk, are at the barricades when the muslim hordes advance; but I instinctively doubt it."

More interesting lad would be whether, as he is about to be beheaded by said hordes, would he lay his life down in martyrdom for his atheist principles (as christians in the past have for their faith) or would he just join the hordes and finish we christians off.

Ernst

11 February 2012 at 11:10  
Blogger Youthpasta said...

Does a council have the legal right to democratically agree on a time for a drinks break?

11 February 2012 at 23:58  
Blogger len said...

Ernst,(11 February 2012 11:10)

There are no atheists in the Islamic World.And if there are they certainly keep quiet about it!.

12 February 2012 at 08:57  

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