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Bideford Town Council prayers ruled unlawful

Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-16980025

Should councils be allowed to pray at meetings?
Or is this kind of leftover from Victorian society unacceptable in today's multicultural Britain?
Personally, I'm surprised this has gone to the courts. It annoys me that there are some extreme atheist busybodies who don't have the manners or patience to sit through a bit of religious mumbo-jumbo.
On the other hand, they may have a point in keeping religion out of politics. Last time I checked, we still had Bishops in the house of Lords.
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Comments

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think their point wasnt against the prayers, its that they had prayer as an official part of council business. Ie to be recorded as being present at a meetings, you had to be there at the start of businesses, where the opening proceedings would include prayer. Those against the prayer before businesses commences, have no issue it seems with prayers before business, just the fact that they were an official part of business which you had to sit through (even if you didnt want to), if you wanted to be recorded as attending council business.

    Seems to be no issue having a prayer straight before hand.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I'm very pleased to hear that not all councillors are stuck in 19th century.

    Prayers are ridiculous, this is 2012
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    A plague on both their houses - the secularist decides that he doesn't like something and gets the courts to overturn the wishes of elected members (there had been two votes that overwhelmingly voted to keep prayers). At the same time the council members seemed hellbent on taking this all the way, wasting tax payers money and refusing to compromise (they could have moved it to just before the formal start of business and not have it minuted with little fuss).

    At best though the victory is pyrrhic - he won on the technicality the Local Government Act 1972 (which regulates how council must run their meetings) doesn't include a space for prayers, making it them technically illegal. However, the recent Localism Act will (once the provisions are entacted) allow authorities much greater freedom to run their meetings as they see fit, and that will include space for prayers if the members want it.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I agree with what has been said above, specifically the bit that it would have been easy to move prayers to "before" official business.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    A plague on both their houses

    This.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Why didn't they make it something that was done after the meeting if it was so important?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    Why didn't they make it something that was done after the meeting if it was so important?

    I imagine because now they've stopped they can't remember why they were doing it in the first place and probably feel a bit foolish about the whole thing :)
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I imagine because now they've stopped they can't remember why they were doing it in the first place and probably feel a bit foolish about the whole thing :)

    From what I've heard they're waiting for the relevant bits of the Localism Act to be enacted so they can reinstate the prayers (that they voted twice to keep).

    While I think they are being deliberately inflexible about this, there's no doubt the prayers were supported by the majority of members. But the wider question is how far courts should be able to overule the decisions of democratic bodies (even piddling little parish councils) - especially as it wasn't on Human Rights grounds but on a technical reading of the Local Govt Act 1972, which will soon be outdated by the Localism Act 2012.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    The authority of local government derives from delegations of authority from central government which derives from its authority from the democratic process; so as far as I'm aware, central government can require local government to do whatever it likes as long it doesn't contradict previous delegations of authority or any other restrictions on the authority central government.

    I would also challenge the assertion that a local government is a democratic body.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    The authority of local government derives from delegations of authority from central government which derives from its authority from the democratic process; so as far as I'm aware, central government can require local government to do whatever it likes as long it doesn't contradict previous delegations of authority or any other restrictions on the authority central government.

    I would also challenge the assertion that a local government is a democratic body.

    I'd agree the legality of local authority derives from central Govt (the Queen and Parliament created them and the Queen and Parliament can dissolve them albeit they need legislation to do so).

    But central Government can't require local authorities to do what it likes (at least without legislation and even then the legislation is often 'you must provide' but doesn't say how and how much) (much to my constant professional displeasure I probably should add). However local authorities are legally independent from central Government with their officers responsible to members.

    It's worth pointing out as well that independence is going to be further enhanced as legislation has been passed which will allow authorities to do anything they want as long as its not illegal (the general power of competence)

    http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/1896534.pdf (p4)

    I'd be interested in why you think LAs aren't democratic bodies. They may have low voter turnout, but no-one is stopped from voting for them
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    These type of cases always leave me feeling so ambivalent. Winning seems, as Flashman says, more often than not like a pyrrhic victory - the sacrifice being one of public perception. Clearly being subjected to two-thousand-year-old desert ideology as part of your working day is ridiculous. But secular folk need to chose their battles as they're always going to have to endure the slack-jawed accusations of 'militant atheist' being levelled at them. I just hope the person who brought this case tried to resolve the matter internally before going all legal with it. I'd have asked the Jesus Squad to have their religo-huddle before any official meetings so the rest of us didn't have to suffer their propitiations. Or something like that couched in tact.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    If reporting I have read is correct, the people who brought this case asked if prayers could be held immediately before proceedings began (so really at the start of business as they are), but not part of official business.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    These type of cases always leave me feeling so ambivalent. Winning seems, as Flashman says, more often than not like a pyrrhic victory - the sacrifice being one of public perception. Clearly being subjected to two-thousand-year-old desert ideology as part of your working day is ridiculous. But secular folk need to chose their battles as they're always going to have to endure the slack-jawed accusations of 'militant atheist' being levelled at them. I just hope the person who brought this case tried to resolve the matter internally before going all legal with it. I'd have asked the Jesus Squad to have their religo-huddle before any official meetings so the rest of us didn't have to suffer their propitiations. Or something like that couched in tact.

    I can't be sure, but my reading is that he tried to deal with it internally and there was not one, but two votes, by the council which outvoted him. He then tries to overturn the democratic decision... so I have zero sympathy and I think 'militant atheist' is being kind... self-important prig would be more apt (and again I'm being kind)

    However, as G-raffe says, the councillors could have easily moved the prayers to before official proceedings with no real difficulty - so I've limited sympathy for them (though more so than for the people who try to overturn the democratic will of a council)

    My guess, and its only a guess, is that he's one of these characters so wrapped up their own righteousness is that he wound up the rest of the councillors so much that they voted to keep the prayers, not because Bideford is a hotbed of fanatical Christianity, but simply to spite a rather vexatious litttle man.

    I'd be interested to know how much this has cost, my feeling is that Bideford Council (which I think has a total of two employees) could probably have made better use of its resources
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think we both fall close to the fence, though at different sides. I'm not particularly interested in who voted for what and in which ratio; nine out of ten councillors could have voted to keep the morning circle-jerk, yet you couldn't force me to endure it opining that 'proper democratic process' was observed. Majority opinion has nowt to do with what's legal, right, decent, or even interesting about this story. And I've no interest in stepping up the rhetoric to paint one party as an embittered, fundamentalist atheist, nor the others to be backwards-minded and frothy-mouthed religious zealots. The whole thing should have been resolved internally with a minimum of fuss. All that happens having it done it this way is that both parties look like cunts and third parties polarise. It's rather banal.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think we both fall close to the fence, though at different sides. I'm not particularly interested in who voted for what and in which ratio; nine out of ten councillors could have voted to keep the morning circle-jerk, yet you couldn't force me to endure it opining that 'proper democratic process' was observed. Majority opinion has nowt to do with what's legal, right, decent, or even interesting about this story. And I've no interest in stepping up the rhetoric to paint one party as an embittered, fundamentalist atheist, nor the others to be backwards-minded and frothy-mouthed religious zealots. The whole thing should have been resolved internally with a minimum of fuss. All that happens having it done it this way is that both parties look like cunts and third parties polarise. It's rather banal.

    I'd agree that no-one comes out well but the interesting part of the story (to me anyway) is the wider question of when can courts overule the democratic decision of councils, irrelevant of what the decision is. I'd feel the same if the judge had forced a council to instate prayers if a majority had voted against having them.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I'm not particularly interested in who voted for what and in which ratio; nine out of ten councillors could have voted to keep the morning circle-jerk, yet you couldn't force me to endure it opining that 'proper democratic process' was observed. Majority opinion has nowt to do with what's legal, right, decent, or even interesting about this story.


    So democracy is ok until something is voted for that you don't agree with?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    So democracy is ok until something is voted for that you don't agree with?

    On certain issues, yes. Hence why most countries have a constitution that prevents certain things from happening even if they would probably win a popular vote. To turn the question around, I suppose you think that rape would be acceptable as long as enough people voted to make it legal? Of course you don't.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    So democracy is ok until something is voted for that you don't agree with?

    Tacit in your assertion is that I think democracy is in some way sacrosanct and would espouse it if it produced a position I favoured. I don't and I don't think I would. Given 10 minutes we could sit down and produce an extensive list of either illegal, immoral or ridiculous analogous motions Bideford Town Council could had voted in favour of. As IWS says, many a country recognises the fact that popular opinion is just that and protects against it.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    Why didn't they make it something that was done after the meeting if it was so important?

    The theory is they were praying for divine wisdom in their deliberations, so prayers would need to be before the meeting to have any practical use.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    And just when you need a clichéd hack to appear bearing trite sound bites: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17021831.

    ETA: Just noticed the obligatory Dawkins' quote in the right-hand column. Tres original.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    To turn the question around, I suppose you think that rape would be acceptable as long as enough people voted to make it legal? Of course you don't.

    Hardly the same thing though. Ultimately though, you have to look at how much time and money has been wasted on this entire thing. The councillor who brought the prosecution should be criticised and the council should be as well for digging it's heels in. I mean ffs, the prayers lasted for what, 30 seconds? Was it really that big of a deal? No. And for that reason the council could have moved it to 30 seconds before the meeting started.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think the guy who brought the prosecution was completely justified. I mean if the council were offered an amicable solution that was easily workable and solved the issue for everyone; then what else is a man to do other than give up when the otherside wont? Especially when it concerns something important to him.

    Also what is this the BBC are reporting about a "Militant secularisation threat to religion"
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17021831

    Has anyone stopped to think about why church numbers are down compared to what they used to be? The church still holds (or at least it thinks it does) a significant amount of power, considering these days I don't think that many people actually care about religion. When I say don't care, I dont mean dislike or anything negative, just indifferent.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    G-Raffe wrote: »
    I think the guy who brought the prosecution was completely justified. I mean if the council were offered an amicable solution that was easily workable and solved the issue for everyone; then what else is a man to do other than give up when the otherside wont? Especially when it concerns something important to him.

    He was justified in bringing it to a vote. He lost the vote, so he should have left it their.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    He was justified in bringing it to a vote. He lost the vote, so he should have left it their.

    What they were doing was unlawful and voting on it was completely by-the-by. They could have been murdering tramps and voting on whether Scrappy or Dog-end was for the chop next, to the same end.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    What they were doing was unlawful and voting on it was completely by-the-by. They could have been murdering tramps and voting on whether Scrappy or Dog-end was for the chop next, to the same end.

    As I think we can all agree that murdering tramps is wrong the question is whether a technical issue should trump democratic votes. I don't think that it should, you do.

    Especially as he didn't bring the cases on whether the council had powers to include prayers or nt, but that his human rights were being infringed (which he lost). The biggest irony is that the Localism Act will allow authorities to add prayers if they want (under their power of competence) so even his 'victory' is short lived. I think that's a good thing and that the will of the elected councillor prevails, whatever I think of whether prayers should be said or not (I don't care, though if you can sit through hours of council business you have the stamnina to sit through 30 seconds of prayers)
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    As I think we can all agree that murdering tramps is wrong the question is whether a technical issue should trump democratic votes. I don't think that it should, you do.

    While I'll concede that murdering tramps was largely for my own wine-fuelled amusement, if you switch 'technical issue' with 'the law', which is what it was, then yeah, that's where I stand.
    Especially as he didn't bring the cases on whether the council had powers to include prayers or nt, but that his human rights were being infringed (which he lost).

    I think we're largely in agreement here. Bemoaning that your human rights are being violated because you've got to listen to the Old Schoolers make sectarian propitiations before meetings makes you look like a cock-end.
    The biggest irony is that the Localism Act will allow authorities to add prayers if they want (under their power of competence) so even his 'victory' is short lived. I think that's a good thing and that the will of the elected councillor prevails, whatever I think of whether prayers should be said or not (I don't care, though if you can sit through hours of council business you have the stamnina to sit through 30 seconds of prayers)

    Maybe they will be able to get prayers back in, it wouldn't surprise. What was heartening to see was that someone in the past had had the mind to ensure that a publicly funded council involved in making decisions potentially affecting all the local public should be a secular environment free of partisan ritual. Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion; I'm happy for people to lay prostrate at the feet if whichever deity they choose, just on their own time and dime.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    He was justified in bringing it to a vote. He lost the vote, so he should have left it their.

    Rotten Boroughs is full of councils who win votes that are somewhat less than moral, ethical or legal.

    As you were.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Rotten Boroughs is full of councils who win votes that are somewhat less than moral, ethical or legal.

    As you were.

    And once or twice every couple of months Rotten Boroughs is vaguely accurate. However, unless you've got something about whether Bideford Town Councils votes is this case were dodgy, I don;t see what your comment adds to the party. And if you do have something specific throw it in - if new information becomes available my mind is open to be being changed.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru

    Maybe they will be able to get prayers back in, it wouldn't surprise. What was heartening to see was that someone in the past had had the mind to ensure that a publicly funded council involved in making decisions potentially affecting all the local public should be a secular environment free of partisan ritual. Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion; I'm happy for people to lay prostrate at the feet if whichever deity they choose, just on their own time and dime.

    I think we're largely in agreement, as you say. However, my reading (and I admit I haven't looked at the Act itself, but I do have a general understanding) is that it is less that there is a specific clasue saying no prayers, but there is no clause that says you can have prayers and the judge decided the council were exceeding their powers (as a good civil servant I should say 'acting ultra vires' to suggest I have some knowledge of latin, even though I haven't :))

    I've no problem with the legal decision as a legal decision, I'm the Judge was right on the law as it stands. My issue is more that the law can overturn democratic decisions where there is no human rights issue or conflict with specific laws and this is as much a general concern as it is for this case.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    There is an issue in human rights though, they were forcing those didnt want to, to pray as it was part of official business.
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