Sunday, 12 February 2012

There been no curtailing of “the right to worship … a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty,” as Eric Pickles has suggested in the Bideford Council prayer case. In fact for the National Secular Society (NSS) this is a Pyrrhic victory. Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the main part of the NSS case, that incorporating prayers into its order of business the council was unlawfully discriminating against Councillor Bone and abusing his human rights.

Mr Justice Ouseley said: "A local authority has no power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, or otherwise, to hold prayers as part of a formal local authority meeting, or to summon councillors to such a meeting at which prayers are on the agenda." However the Judge added: "The saying of prayers in a local authority chamber before a formal meeting of such a body is lawful provided councillors are not formally summoned to attend." So we’ll just carry on as normal at Teignmouth Town Council.

Eric Pickles is well aware of the limits to the powers of councils. As Bradford Council leader in the 1980s he tried to have a ticketing system to control who entered the public gallery for council meetings. The judge quickly declare Eric's idea ultra vires – and contrary to "a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty" l

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