The ramifications of the situation at Bideford have started to be felt all over England, as councils and other organisations reflect on the ruling of the High Court that it is illegal to include prayers in the official business of the meetings of local councils.
In this case, the first item on the agenda was a CofE Christian prayer. If you were not a Christian, or didn’t want to take part for any other reason (there are lots of different kinds of Christians, some pretty much at war with others) then you had a choice: put up with it, or turn up late for the meeting.
Now it is reported that in the Commons, where the chaplain (presumably a functionary paid for out of taxes) says prayers before the start of each session, Speaker Bercow (both left), has said that the ruling will not affect them, as they are covered by the English Bill of Rights.
However, some parliamentarians are questioning this. They say that although they are not obliged to attend for the prayers... in short they, unlike the councillors, are not marked “late” if they are not in place at the session’s start, if they want a seat, they have to turn up early to guarantee that they will be able to sit. (This is one of the problems of having a chamber which is too small for the number of MPs sent to it: a problem that I for one would be happy to solve for them, by stopping sending any MPs from Scotland!)
Some MPs make a protest by taking their seats and remaining seated during the prayers when the Christians stand to pray. They urge that prayers be moved to somewhere they think more appropriate, like for example the parliamentary Chapel: not an unreasonable place given that that is what it is for, and it might as well get some use, seeing as we pay for it out of tax money.
Somewhat surprisingly one of the champions of Church of England prayers is Nadine Dorries (right). That’s the Nadine with the dubious record on expenses, and who fiddled her money on a tvprogramme about living on the dole, and who later ran off with a married man... her friend's husband, actually.
I suspect that the good lord might have been just as happy if Mad Nad were on the other side of this particular argument.
It seems only sensible to me that no one should be expected, on a regular basis, to take part in religious observances with which they have no sympathy. It should not be a part of their job. Christians themselves have taken strong stands on this very matter. Was not James McKay (below left) expelled from the Free Church of Scotland, after attending the Roman Catholic funerals of two colleagues? And did not the Rev Iain Paisley not scream “Antichrist” as the Pope was saying a few words of prayer in the European parliament?
Religion has for too long been a part of the state. It should not be. States cannot have religion. Religion is an intensely personal thing. It is a faith; a belief. It has to be interpreted by the individual. By what it says to him or her, how it informs and directs his or her life. And it can only ever be respected if it is not forced upon people.
The UK state religion is Church of England, with a concession that in Scotland it is the Church of Scotland. What nonsense that is. How can the Queen and her family be members of both? And why do politicians like Jim Murphy feel that before they even start, they have no chance of prime ministership because they are Catholic? Why can’t any of the royals marry a catholic?
This is the 21st century. Religion should now be put back where it belongs: in the personal life of the individual. To do otherwise is to mock religion; to use god as a tool of the state.