Well you heard it here first, and I’m not always proved right. Eric (I’m in a bit of a) Pickles has played his trump card in response to the banning – or more accurately, the declaring unlawful – of prayers during Council meetings. Pretty close to what I said a week ago in my blog post.
The Power of Competence that is granted to Councils under the Localism Act allows Councils to do anything that individuals might do other than that which is specifically prohibited. Mr Pickles seems to believe that enacting this power now makes the declaration of unlawfulness null and void. He may be right – well, he probably has better legal advice than I; I have none bar the old Code of Conduct for Councillors and Google! But what worms does this newly opened can contain?
He claims this is a blow “for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism”, but fails to consider the intolerance of (some) religions. He calls this “a wake up call”. Does he assume only moderate Christians will seek to hold prayers during Council meetings? I do believe he has an impression of local councils that has more to do with the Vicar of Dibley than reality.
I often get a wry glance when pagan folk who don’t know me well hear that I chair a parish council. They assume, as do many, and perhaps as does Minister Pickles, that the parish council is still linked indivisibly with the church council. It’s not, and hasn’t been since the nineteenth century.
Local councillors are of any, all and no religion, and unless you happen to live in a monoculture environment you’re likely to find the council is made up of Christians (of all sects), Muslims (at least two sects to my knowledge), Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists and potentially devout followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster… Any prayers will either have to be so defocused that they have no content, so as not to offend anyone, or perhaps there will be a rota, where the religion of the week sets the tone for the meeting.
It might even be fun. But it has no place in a Council meeting.