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Cumbria's sole Muslim councillor backs Christian prayers at meetings

Cumbria's only Muslim councillor has spoken out in support of Christian prayers at council meetings following a controversial High Court decision to ban them.

Abdul Harid photo
Abdul Harid

The ruling means that official acts of worship will not be allowed at the start of council meetings across England and Wales, overturning centuries of Christian tradition.

Abdul Harid, who has been a Carlisle City Councillor for more than five years, said he had never been offended by a Christian prayer and that it was a good way to start council business.

“I think the council should have its own agenda, its own criteria and its own way of handling things.

“Prayers are prayers in any language.

“Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, the prayers are for the people. I have been happy with the system that has been in place for the past five years and have no objections. I think the chaplain does wonderful work and the council handles it in a good manner.

“I would like to see the prayer continue: it’s a good way to start a meeting.”

Outraged Christians and politicians in Carlisle have branded the ruling “appalling” and “unbelievable”.

The case was brought by atheist and former Devon councillor Clive Bone against Bideford town council. He claimed to have been “disadvantaged and embarrassed” when prayers were recited at formal meetings.

The Rev Keith Teasdale, vicar of Saint Cuthbert’s, who leads the city council in prayer, predicted a backlash against a “sinister” brand of secularism.

He said that vicars at St Cuthberts had been chaplain to the mayor since the time of Oliver Cromwell.

“I’m amazed that one person can overturn centuries of tradition in this country and that he has the right to do that” he said.

“It is utterly appalling that this can happen, denying others the right to have prayers.

“If we sit back the whole of the Christian faith could be wiped out. It really concerns me.

“I think there will be a backlash and I think they have misjudged the mood of the country.

“A lot of our councillors are active Christians of various denominations.

“I don’t see how you can divorce religion from politics: they should continue to work side by side.

He added that the prayers provide a focal point for the meeting and that non Christians could use the time for “quiet reflection.”

The prayer said at council meetings has already been modified to accommodate other religious beliefs and to avoid causing offence.

Mike Mitchelson, leader of Carlisle City Council, added: “We traditionally have prayers at the start of out meetings and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue to do so.

“I’m surprised at the move. It has been something that has been done at meetings for many years. It is unbelievable.”

Bideford Council has been given the right to appeal. Communities secretary Eric Pickles has also vowed to override the court’s decision by bringing in the Localism Act which would give councils a greater say on how they conduct their own business.

Canon Bryan Rowe, rector of St Michael’s in Workington, also leads prayers at some town council meetings but declined to comment until after he had discussed the implications of the ruling with councillors.

Have your say

@Dave Why thank you Dave. And I shall continue to think rationally for you. :-)

Posted by Bob T on 21 February 2012 at 07:15

Oh c'mon no one in this day and age really believes in god and saying a prayer is just daft-think about it!

Posted by RW on 20 February 2012 at 22:53

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