Prayers at council meetings

Bideford Town Council operates under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972. Public prayers are said at full meetings of the Council but not at committee meetings or extraordinary meetings. The summons and agenda for council meetings routinely lists ‘Prayers’ as the first item of business; the subsequent minutes begin with an attendance list and the first substantive item minuted is ‘Prayers’.

In National Secular Society & Anor, R (on the application of) v Bideford Town Council [2012] EWHC 175 (Admin) the National Secular Society and Mr Clive Bone, a former Bideford town councillor, challenged this on the three grounds:

  • that the practice breached the prohibition on religious discrimination in the Equality Act 2006 and the replacement public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010 and discriminated indirectly against those with no religious beliefs;
  • that it interfered with Mr Bone’s right not to hold religious beliefs and not to be discriminated against for that lack of belief, contrary to Articles 9 (thought, conscience and religion) and 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • that s 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 did not empower local councils to hold prayers at meetings.

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