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Dorset Humanists is a welcoming group for humanists, atheists and agnostics who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We meet in Bournemouth for informative and enjoyable presentations, debates and discussions on a wide range of subjects including ethics, science, religion, philosophy, politics, our environment and much more. We also organise regular social events.

Prayers at council meetings under fire

7:00pm Wednesday 23rd December 2009

A CAMPAIGN is underway to end the traditional practice of starting council meetings with a prayer.
The tradition – still carried out in many Town Halls – is under fire from the National Secular Society, which says it is out of date and has even put some people off becoming candidates at elections.
“Non-believers and those of other religions are put in the embarrassing position of wondering whether to participate or pointedly not participate,” the society says. “It is intolerable that elected representatives should be put through this in carrying out their duty. A typical reaction to their protests is that they are told they can leave the chamber during prayers.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Roger West, a member of Dorset Humanists, suggested ending council prayers when he was first elected to Bournemouth council in 1999 but received little support.
He said: “I still do not think the council chamber is the place to have prayers. I think that it should be enough for the mayor just to call for a few minutes’ silence where we can give time to our innermost thoughts.
“Praying as such can be divisive and in some cases would look like hypocrisy. Why pray in the council chamber if we don’t go to a church or believe?”
David Warden, chair of Dorset Humanists, said: “I think it seems very strange when councillors are signed up to diversity that they still practice what seems to be a rather archaic opening to their meetings. It’s specifically Christian in what should be a secular context.” But former Bournemouth mayor Cllr Bob Chapman said: “I think it would be sad to do away with another tradition. Bearing in mind we’re basically a Christian country, I think we need a few prayers to start most of our meetings.”
Christchurch councillor David Jones, who trained as a lay preacher, said: “I think it very appropriate that we start each full council meeting with a prayer. We ask for guidance in the decisions we take for the common good of the people of Christchurch, and it is sobering to be reminded that we answer to a higher authority.
“There is no requirement for an atheist to be present – anyone can choose to come into council after the prayers.
“But I would point out that militant secularism itself is a faith, and while the majority of people in this country claim to be Christian of one sort or another it would be just as wrong to impose secularism on them as it would be to impose any other faith.”
Poole’s mayor, the United Reformed Church clergyman the Rev Charles Meachin, said Britain was a Christian country, with the Queen as defender of the faith. Schools had to teach religious studies and hold a daily act of worship. He said prayers at council meetings were a tradition upheld since the 16th century and he did not expect they would be stopped.

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