UK Christian leaders warn religion is being pushed out of public life

By Reuters Staff
February 10, 2012

(Dark clouds gather over Southwark Cathedral in London, January 26, 2012. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)

They are recited at the beginning of Britain’s parliamentary sessions and many school assemblies, but Christian leaders fear prayers could be driven from public life after a court ruled that a council had acted unlawfully by allowing them at meetings.

Although Britain has increasingly become a secular society, it is still a mostly Christian nation, and the Church of England is the established or state church, with the monarch as its supreme governor. But an atheist ex-councillor, backed by the National Secular Society (NSS), on Friday won a High Court judicial review in London, effectively nibbling away at the Church’s influence. It is the latest legal defeat for Christians in the High Court, and came on the same day a religious couple lost their appeal against turning away a gay couple from their Bed and Breakfast guesthouse.

“I’ve no doubt at all that the agenda of the National Secular Society is inch-by-inch to drive religion out of the public sphere,” the Church of England’s Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, told BBC television. “If they get their way it will have enormous implications for things such as prayers in parliament, the Remembrance Day, the Jubilee celebrations (marking the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth) and even the singing of the national anthem.”

Government minister Eric Pickles entered the fray by describing the council ruling as “surprising and disappointing”.

“We are a Christian country, with an established Church in England, governed by the Queen,” he said in a statement. “Christianity plays an important part in the culture, heritage and fabric of our nation. The right to worship is a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty.”

The case was won on a point relating to the statutory construction of local government legislation, the Press Association reported, and could apply to the formal meetings of all councils in England and Wales. Prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend though, the judge ruled.

“Acts of worship in council meetings are key to the separation of religion from politics,” Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society (NSS), said. “This underlines the need for shared civic spaces to be secular and available to all, believers and non-believers alike, on an equal basis.”

The NSS and Clive Bone, the ex-councillor from Devon, south west England, had also argued that atheist council members were being “indirectly discriminated against”, in breach of human rights laws, a line rejected by the court.

Bishop Langrish of Exeter said Britain remained a religious nation. “Every time there is a survey of religious beliefs in this country, around 70 percent of  the population profess religious faith and will also talk about saying private prayers. We are actually talking about something that still accords with the mood and the outlook of the majority.”

by Drazen Jorgic in London

.
Follow RTRFaithWorld via Twitter Follow all posts on Twitter @ RTRFaithWorld

rss button Follow all posts via RSS

6 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Thank Zeus! It’s about time religion was pushed out of public life. Why in the name of Thor would the government of a country want to continue to support and promote superstition?

Posted by Yanquetino | Report as abusive

Personally,I think that an increasingly secular society is a good thing. Prayers etc should be like smoking,if you want to do it, fine your prerogative,but don’t do it at work, or in a public place where you subject others, who don’t believe in it to it.

“If they get their way it will have enormous implications for things such as prayers in parliament, the Remembrance Day, the Jubilee celebrations (marking the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth) and even the singing of the national anthem.”

What an utterly ludicrous statement! Prayers should not happen in parliament, I’d agree that that should be the case, however,the rest are things that no atheist has a problem with,as they have absolutely nothing to do with religion.(Okay,the national anthem has the word God in it, but it doesn’t automatically follow that patriotism associated with it is religious)

Remembrance day especially,I’d like for Bishop Langrish to point me to the atheist that doesn’t value the sacrifices made by our war dead,because I myself,have enormous gratitude and respect to those people and all of the non-believers I know feel the same way.

The fact that theism and religiosity are relatively absent in UK political and social policies is one of the things that the country should be most proud of. I hope it continues and increases to be this way.

Posted by baz-blackadder | Report as abusive

“The agenda of the National Secular Society is inch-by-inch to drive religion out of the public sphere”

Not seeing a problem with that agenda at all :-)

Posted by DaveCross | Report as abusive

Bishop Langrish shoots himself in the foot when he says: “Every time there is a survey of religious beliefs in this country, around 70 percent of the population profess religious faith and will also talk about saying private prayers…”

Private prayers. Absolutely fine. So why do some councillors also need to say prayers in public, wasting the time of other councillors and the money of taxpayers? Get on with your job and keep your superstitious beliefs to yourself.

Posted by SimonNorwich | Report as abusive

Rules are put in place to protect the minority from the majority. Ones relations with their creator is between them and their creator. There is no need to shove it in the face of others to satisfy you need for religious voyeurism.

Posted by oneill | Report as abusive

this is news?

Posted by LogicalObserver | Report as abusive