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Feb 11, 2012, 11:08am

What's all this about taking prayers off the agenda? Our charity group had a ruling from head office to stop saying a prayer at our meetings. We ignored it. Somehow a prayer before a meeting helps you to focus on the decisions at hand and forget all the issues you had when you arrived. If the one who complained doesn't like it, keep him out until they are over!

Editado: Feb 11, 2012, 4:37pm

I was rather astonished to learn that prayers are included in this way. I would have thought that it's important for it to feel like an inclusive situation - i.e. all councellors are equal. As someone who isn't a christian, I'd feel excluded. With the prayers being part of the offical business, I'd feel that I wasn't really properly "in the club" as it were.

Feb 11, 2012, 1:05pm

Some comments about this already here:

Prayers at a council meeting are not a prerequisite, as far as I can work out. Individuals can pray before a meeting, but if a number of councillors are of a different faith or no faith at all, it's not very inclusive, is it, in fact rather divisive. Apparently in the case in question the prayers were on the agenda and being minuted.

For State occasions where the monarch as Head of the established church is involved the situation must be different, which is unlikely to change until the church is disestablished.

Feb 11, 2012, 2:35pm

As a very much lapsed Christian but also someone who likes tradition I'm rather ambivalent about this. But I do think it is another instance, for good or ill, of central authority (whether judges or central government) imposing their will on lower levels. And presumably most people on the council in this case are content to go along with the prayers. I doubt that a majority are committed practising Christians but nevertheless they don't want to "make waves". And of course the whole point of councils and governments is that they make many of us do things we don't agree with.

Feb 11, 2012, 2:59pm

The only reason why a judge "imposed his will" was because an anti- religious councillor took the council to court, I understand. The judge then had to make a judgement on the basis of the law applying to the issues. He decided that prayers as an integral part of the meeting breached the Local Government Act, but rejected the claim that effectively compulsory prayers were a breach of the plaintiff's human rights or that they constituted discrimination.

My personal view is that the decision was right in that prayers should not be a compulsory part of a meeting, but as an agnostic leaning towards a moderate belief in a benevolent deity, I think optional prayers are reasonable and that the anti-religious councillor should not have gone to the trouble to make such a big issue out if it.

Feb 11, 2012, 4:28pm


Not anti-religious just atheist. He had no problems with people praying in private before the meeting.

If prayers are to be said as part of the meeting then I would argue it should include prayer from all portions of the community that council represents - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, even Satanist. I can definitely see that if only Christian prayer is said as part of the council meeting then minorities are not only going to feel as if the council doesn't fully represent them, but will not feel welcome in standing for council elections.

Feb 12, 2012, 12:39pm

Sorry, yes, I probably should have said atheist, though I think it is reasonable to describe most atheists as anti-religious. I didn't particularly mean to imply a value judgement in describing him with the anti word.

As I say if the prayers were a formal part of the meeting, I think it was right to say this should not be done.

Prayers can actually be cross-religious, I.e. not particularly specific to one religion, though this would be difficult to apply in practice to those other than Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

A minor point, but I don't think anyone would seriously argue that Satanism constitutes a religion, though it would be interesting to know if this point has ever been tested. Surely it is, and is intended to be, a negation of Christianity.

Feb 12, 2012, 1:46pm


Why not? The Royal Navy recognised a Satansim as the religion of one of its ratings some eight years ago.

As for it being a negation of Christianity - this isn't quite right. For a start there are many forms of Satanism, some theistic some atheistic. For example I can imagine worshiping the being that gave mankind self-knowledge, that is sometimes called Lucifer (the bringer of light) as being perfectly rational - especially when you can think of the Bible as being either corrupted or deliberately false propaganda by the other side (who even in his own texts wanted mankind to not have self-knowledge at all and who tried to kill them off).

It certainly sounds as rational (or rather irrational) as any other religion to my eye.

Feb 12, 2012, 2:45pm

Sittings in both Houses of Parliament have begun with prayers of a Christian nature since the 16th century. The main prayer in the Commons goes:

"Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed."

Pity some of them don't take more notice of these worthy sentiments, whether or not they believe in the Christian's god.

Curiously, the MPs present face the wall behind them while the prayers are read.

Editado: Feb 12, 2012, 2:55pm

9: Curiously, the MPs present face the wall behind them while the prayers are read.
What's the significance of that? Does that mean MPs on government and opposition benches face away from each other? Does the wall face Mecca, Rome, Canterbury? Are they just showing some sort of dissent from the prayer? Not trying to be sarcastic or funny - I never knew this and if it's based in some sort of tradition would like to know.

Feb 12, 2012, 6:17pm

It's probably to prevent them from trying to glare meaningfully at members of the other parties.

Feb 12, 2012, 7:19pm

The parliament website, on which I found the prayer, suggested that it was to ease the difficulty that members would have with their swords when kneeling if they faced the front. Believe thet if you will! ;-)

Maybe it is to hide their embarassment.

Feb 13, 2012, 6:57am

12: Ah, thanks.

Feb 13, 2012, 3:42pm

#8 I hadn't heard of that case. I think that must have been an administrative decision by the navy with no wider application, rather than a court decision. Maybe Satanists should improve their image by choosing a different name;). Satan and the Devil as concepts have a pretty negative image even among those who aren't Christians.

#12 it sounds like one of the parliamentary traditions that date from the civil war period. The distance between the Government and opposition dispatch boxes in the Commons is no less than two (I think) sword lengths dating from that time.

Feb 17, 2012, 1:55am

As I understand the case with this particular council: non-Christian councillors had to attend at the start of the meeting (that is, before the prayers started); then there was no formal process in place for them to leave at the start of prayers and come back later; thus they'd have to walk out of their own accord which would make them appear, in the eyes of any of the public who happened to be observing and weren't familiar with what was going on, to be behaving disrespectfully. Which was what led to this particular councillor's objection.

It would seem to be a fairly simple thing to incorporate into the formula a few words from the mayor or council-leader giving non-Christians permission to temporarily leave and later recalling them. As there had previously been two votes on the question of these prayers, presumably preceded by debate, it seems quite likely that the supposedly Christian majority had refused to do this. In effect, they were saying that attendance is optional but, if you exercise your option, we'll make you look a twat.

Feb 23, 2012, 8:24am

I have to say I don't think religion has a place in secular government. I am not anti-religious at all I just think these things should be kept seperate. As has been said before on this thread it is a bit more complicated when the Queen is involved as she is head of the Church of England, but having scheduled and minuted prayers at the start of a council meeting seems wrong to me.

Feb 23, 2012, 8:55am

>16 KayEluned:
I've read a few commentaries on the current attacks on so-called aggressive secularism, crystalised by Baroness Warsi's speeches. It's quite clear that, amongst theists of all descriptions, and even among many agnostics and non-believers, there's a lot of confusion of terms. Secularism, atheism and humanism are not interchangeable descriptors (even though adherents of these philosophies may overlap considerably) and mixing them up does no one a service.

There's also a lot of guff talked about such philosophies being aggressive, and all I can say is that if staunch believers feel they're being somehow persecuted for their religions they don't have much idea of what real aggression and persecution are. I'm looking for all the instances of civil disturbance, pillaging, torture, hanging, drawing, quartering and burning being perpetrated by these aggressors against those religious martyrs on councils and in parliament. Oh, they mean all those courtroom judgements and those TV interviews and books by godless secularists. Quick! Contact Amnesty International! Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (if Britain hasn't already opted out of it). Or go crying to the Pope. (Oh, they've already done this.)

Sorry. I know sarcasm isn't the best of arguments. Especially when preaching to some of the converted.

Editado: Feb 23, 2012, 3:33pm

I do not believe that a system of government should, or needs to ally itself with one philosophical position or another. I would not support an overtly atheist government any more than I support an overtly Christian one (or Muslim, Hindu etc.) I just believe, as a lot of other people do, that our government should be secular and outside of such debates. As Ed has pointed out secular and atheist are totally different things, secular does not mean unreligious in that sense;

'Secularity (adjective form secular)1 is the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.'

Government buildings can always have those prayer and contemplation rooms where religious leaders can be invited in to lead prayers or religious ceremonies for those who wish to attend if individuals feel they need it. Or alternatively they can just seek religous guidance outside of their work time. I see no reason why any religious content needs to be included in official business, Christian or otherwise.

Feb 24, 2012, 3:43am

>18 KayEluned:

I'd go along with that. I suppose the USSR would be an example of an atheist government, and I don't think that worked terribly well.

It always strikes me as curious that the US has an official separation between church and state, but that it's inconceivable that they'd elect a president who didn't wear his christianity on his sleeve, whereas our state is officially tied to the C of E, but in practice is effectively secular. Until something like this story pops up to remind me that it's not quite as secular as it sometimes feels.

Mind you, there's then a step further into what I for one would like, where government policy is genuinely evidence based. We can but hope.

Feb 24, 2012, 4:26am

19 straying wildly off topic. I cant believe governments haven't already tried to move to a more evidence policy system, still open to wild arguments but seems much more sensible.

Feb 24, 2012, 4:36am

>20 clfisha:
I'm not sure it is so far off topic. If religion is about what feels true to the believer (but probably isn't), then moving on to policy making based on political dogma that feels true to the voter (but provably isn't) doesn't feel like great progress...

Feb 24, 2012, 8:30am

It's the main problem between the non religious and those that belief. The age of concept of faith without evidence, as an atheist I cant quite get my head round it myself. I agree I cant wait for a change in politics, I can see just as many issues but at least we might get somewhere, better, much more quickly!

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