21 January 2016
Fresh attempt to ban council prayers in Wales
The BBC reported earlier this month on an online petition that had been launched in west Wales, calling for prayers to be banned from full meetings of Carmarthenshire County Council. The assertion is that the expression of religious belief in a secular setting is "inappropriate, divisive and challenges equalities legislation".
This is the latest in a long line of attempts, often initiated by secularist groups such as the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, to chip away at religious customs and traditions in UK public life.
The association and prevalence of prayers with council meetings can seem peculiar and of a bygone age, especially in a society that may seem increasingly secular. This petition, however, must be placed in the specific context of developments resulting from a High Court judgment, made in February 2012, involving Bideford Town Council in Devon and the National Secular Society (NSS). At that time, Mr. Justice Ouseley ruled in the case, brought against the council by the NSS, that prayers that were being said in town council meetings were unlawful.
At that time, 12 of Wales' 22 local authorities held prayers as part of the formal agenda of full council meetings, while another five made arrangements for prayers to be said before meetings formally began.
Now there are 12 councils in Wales that have prayers, but none forming part of the official agenda and instead being said before the start of council meetings according to the BBC's findings.
While there would not be complete unanimity among Christians as to the appropriateness of such prayers, there are nevertheless strong arguments that such customs, if desired by council members, should be allowed to continue.
While secularists find common cause with Christians on issues relating to freedom of speech, on other matters they are often opposed to what Christians are asking for.
Christian leaders in Wales in recent years have often chosen not to pay attention to secularist agendas in order to maintain a continued focus on Christian mission and not get sidetracked. However, perhaps there should be a reevaluation of this position for the following reasons:
· Secularist groups, while continuing to be low in number, are nevertheless building capacity. The BHA, for example, are currently advertising for a Wales development officer.
· With Welsh Government in the process of overhauling the National Curriculum in Wales, Christians and other faith groups are needing to be vigilant against secularist agendas in order to ensure that collective worship and RE are not diluted.
· The realisation that Christians are impacted disproportionately by secularism compared to those of other faiths. This is because Christians see the UK as historically a Christian country (although in exactly what way, people may differ) and therefore secular agendas as direct attacks on their faith.
Photo used under CC licence- credit Shemaiah Telemaque/iadMedia