Published: 17/07/2012 06:00 - Updated: 16/07/2012 23:57

Pressure group launches assault on council prayers

Written byby Hugh Ross

Councillor Ken MacLeod believes the move would be resisted by most of his coleagues
Councillor Ken MacLeod believes the move would be resisted by most of his coleagues

A PRESSURE group which wants the long-standing ritual of prayers scrapped from Highland Council meetings is to appeal directly to the authority’s leader, after two Scottish councils abolished the practice.

The National Secular Society is to write to council leader Drew Hendry asking for the practice of councillors saying prayers to be removed from the agenda for meetings in Inverness.

Selected councillors take it in turns to pray before meetings in a practice spanning decades in local Highland politics.

However Christian and veteran Inverness councillor Ken MacLeod - who is from Ullapool - warned there would be fierce opposition to any attempt to have the ritual removed.

The society - which represents atheists, agnostics and all other non-believers - won a High Court action in England in February which ruled it was illegal to say prayers as a formal part of council meetings.

Since May councils in Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway have scrapped traditional blessings from meetings and instead organised separate “pause for reflection” sessions instead.

It was described by the authorities as an inclusive move which would involve religious, civic and community interests, while promoting equal opportunities and eliminating discrimination.

Alistair McBay, spokesman for the society, said he was pleased at the progress made and hoped all the other councils in Scotland, including Highland, would follow suit.

A letter is to be sent to Councillor Hendry in the next few weeks calling for a change but Mr McBay admitted it could be a difficult task given the strong Christian tradition in the Highlands.

“There are lot of deeply entrenched views up there,” he said. “We will see how it goes. It is absolute nonsense the way it has been reported though, we are not against councillors praying, whether they be Christians or Muslims.

“We just don’t want prayers to be on the agenda items as part of their civic business. We are hopeful that we will gain support.”

However, Councillor MacLeod said prayers were not a formal part of the agenda for its meetings in any case, although they are included on the official papers.

“I am a Christian and I believe in committing the work of the council to almighty God,” said Councillor MacLeod.

“The people of the Highlands have been known as the people of the book [bible]. I will pray for the National Secular Society.”

He claimed most of his 79 councillor colleagues were not against prayers and would support his stance.

“I think they listen respectfully and do not object,” he said. “It is part of the business of the council and has always been done. It is not formally part of the meeting and is said before the calling of the roll.”

The Inverness Millburn councillor prayed for peace in a troubled world before last month’s meeting which was broadcast live on the internet. He also asked for the work of councillors and staff to be blessed, with particular reference to the children in the care of the council.

Earlier this year the society said it intended to take legal advice about legislation which could form the basis of a case against councils in Scotland about meeting prayers.

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