Mayor-elect vows to reinstate council prayers

CALDERDALE’S Mayor-elect has vowed to reinstate prayers before full council meetings - following an unholy dispute in court.

John Hardy (Con, Skircoat) is a churchwarden at Halifax Minster and said removing them would be a breakdown of standards.

Yesterday, Justice Ouseley in the High Court ruled Bideford Town Council in Devon acted unlawfully by allowing prayers before meetings after a complaint from an atheist councillor.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers were not lawful under the Local Government Act 1972.

However, prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend.

The case was brought by the National Secular Society which had argued such prayers breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

Councillor Hardy said prayers were said every day in the House of Commons and full council meetings should start with prayers.

Provided he gets re-elected he is set to become the next Mayor of Calderdale and his chaplain will be Rev Canon Hilary Barber, of Halifax Minster.

Councillor Hardy said Canon Barber would say prayers on behalf of all religions and none.

“The prayers are not overtly Christian but broad based for the council, borough of Calderdale and for wise wisdom,” he said.

“Opening a meeting with general prayer sets it off right.”

The current Mayor Nader Fekri (Lib Dem, Calder) disagrees, however, he stressed he supports people’s right to religion and faith.

“However, as an atheist I do believe in the separation of church and state,” he said.

Yesterday’s judgement is seen as a test case and the judge acknowledged the case raised issues of general public importance and gave the council permission to appeal.

Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said after the case: “We are pleased that the court has said the saying of prayers at meetings does not breach human rights laws.

“But it is bizarre that they should be declared unlawful because of the 1972 Local Government Act.”