Last week the National Secular Society and an ex-councillor won a high court ruling which said that it was unlawful for councils to hold prayers as part of a council meeting.
The practice of Bideford council in Devon to have prayers on meeting agendas was challenged and Mr Justice Ouseley concluded
''The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a council is not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.''
However the ruling (which applied to councils in England and Wales) has been overturned, Communities secretary Eric Pickles has signed a general power of competence which means that councils can do anything a private citizen can do as long as it is not illegal, so prayers can be included on council agendas. Pickles said that the high court ruling had been "illiberal" and "should be seen as a wake-up call" he added:
"the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life. We are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.”
"Public authorities – be it Parliament or a parish council – should have the right to say prayers before meetings if they wish."
However what Eric Pickles says about public prayers goes against what The Bible says. Matthew chapter 6 verse 1 (Matthew 6:1) contains the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus who, it is safe to say, is more of an authority on christianity then Eric Pickles, the Good News Translation of Matthew 6:1 says:
"Make certain you do not perform your religious duties* in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven."
(* The New King James Version says "charitable deeds" not "religious duties" – see below.)
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you."
Eric Pickles is very keen on promoting christianity but not so keen on reading what Jesus actually said, he should be telling councillors to seek out a quiet corner to say their prayers not to say them at public meetings.
The New King James Version of the above are as follows
"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven"
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.