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UK News

Welsh council defends prayers before meetings

by Cara Bentley

Denbighshire council in North Wales was criticised by Councillor Paul Penlington, alongside the National Secular Society for the practice which he said was "discriminatory to non-Christians" and asked for them to be moved to a room away from the council chambers.

The council responded by referring to a similar case from 2012 in Devon, in which Bideford Town Council were found to be acting unlawfully by having prayers at the start of their meetings, but were told they could still hold prayers before the meeting as long as no one was forced to attend.

A spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: "Meetings do not formally begin until after prayers are said.

"The issue of prayers at Council meetings was considered by the High Court in a case in 2012 brought by the National Secular Society against Bideford Town Council, Devon.

"The court ruled that requiring members to pray was a breach of the Equality Act's prohibition on religious discrimination and the right not to hold religious beliefs and not to be discriminated for that lack of belief contrary to Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"The Court further found that there was no specific or implied power for Councils to require this. The Court made a declaration that the point of this case was very narrow, that it only precluded prayers as part of the formal business of the meeting, and that Councils could still hold prayers before their meeting.

"In England the government passed the Local Government (Religious Observance) Act 2015 which grants power to Councils in England to include prayers in their formal meetings. This does not apply in Wales.

"At the time, Denbighshire County Council was asked how it wished to proceed and the view expressed by the vast majority of members was that prayers should be continued, albeit not as part of the formal business of the meeting."

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