The mayor of a Kent borough has announced that his council's long-standing civic chaplaincy role will be discontinued. The decision means that Swale council, which has kept the post occupied for some 50 years, will no longer begin its main meetings with prayer.
The new mayor, Cllr Paul Stephen, insisted that the chaplaincy post does not align with the council's policies on equality and diversity.
He told Kent Online: "Following last year's elections the coalition passed an equality and diversity motion and as Mayor I have the option to employ the services of a chaplain to say prayers at full council meetings.
"As we live in a multi-faith society, myself and a large majority of the coalition decided that employing the services of just one faith was not in-keeping with the equality and diversity motion.
"As I said in my speech at the annual council meeting earlier this year, I will happily attend services of any faith during my time as mayor."
A council insider told the outlet that the decision had been taken because the general view at the council was that "religion and politics don't mix".
The outgoing chaplain, Rev Fr Colin Johnson — who was appointed under the former conservative mayor Ken Ingleton — said he was outraged by the decision.
"I've never heard such rubbish in my life," he said. "I will be taking this up with the new Bishop of Dover the Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She was chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. I bet she wouldn't agree politics and religion don't mix.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has never shied away from politics, either."
The Rev Cindy Kent of Minster Abbey, added that she was "sad to hear the role of mayor's chaplain will be axed".
She added: "To say religion and politics don’t mix is invidious since Jesus was frequently with the leaders of His day and entered into some interesting discussions with them."
In a statement, Cllr Stephen said that the council had taken the decision to discontinue to the role because "employing the services of just one faith was not in-keeping with the equality and diversity motion".