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What harm can a little prayer do?

There are times when you’re bound to wonder whether some people might have a tad too little to worry about.

On this occasion, it’s specifically those who take up cudgels against prayers to whom I refer.

Prayers at council meetings are their particular beef. But presumably any little prayer, any old time, offered in any populated place would be enough to get them all fired up and hot under the collar.

Did you ever come across anything quite so potty?

The High Court has ruled a council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers at the start of its meetings. It’s a decision which could affect councils across England and Wales... if they let it, that is.

In the case at the heart of all this nonsense, action was brought against Bideford Town Council, Devon, after an atheist councillor complained about prayers being said in his presence.

When his colleagues prayed and he didn’t want to, he was offended, embarrassed, disadvantaged and his human rights were infringed, he protested. Remarkably, the court agreed with him.

On Friday, the High Court ruled prayers would no longer be lawful during meetings because they were not inherent to the council’s work, therefore members had no power to hold them as part of its formal agenda.

Ditto tea, biscuits and nodding off, one assumes.

However, the judge ordered prayers could be said in a council chamber before meetings, so long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend. That way no offence could be given.

Funny things human rights. It seems the more individuals insist on having them, the more inhuman day to day life tends to be for everybody else.

Scatter them at the feet of a whining complainant and umpteen people end up falling over them. Really, are such petty levels of human rights worth fighting about or should we rely on old fashioned common sense and respect?

Instead of coming down like a ton of bricks on people who unwittingly give offence – creating new law in the process – would we not do better ruling to deal with people who deliberately take offence?

For goodness sake, what’s in a prayer to hurt or harm? By its very nature a prayer is an intensely personal thing – even when collectively offered.

No one can be forced to pray. Anybody who doesn’t want to join a congregation of prayer needn’t.

It’s like a group hug – you don’t like it, don’t do it. You don’t want to talk to God, just shut up. He won’t mind a bit.

Over the years human rights wrangles have got us into more messes than – well, health and safety rules, frankly.

We can’t deport extremists who want to bring down our democracy. We’re not even supposed to call them extremists since the word suggests a judgement – and that’s a human rights issue.

Abu Qatada, for example, should be referred to as a radical to protect his human rights. He’s just been released from jail – which probably makes him a free radical.

But aren’t free radicals bad for us? Crikey, what a tangle. Think I feel a prayer coming on... for sanity.

Evidence that prayers can be answered comes from Carlisle City Council, of all places. Councillors there have greeted the High Court no-prayers rule with admirably no-nonsense disdain.

Cumbria's only Muslim councillor, Abdul Harid said he had never been offended by a Christian prayer.

“Prayers are prayers in any language,” he said.

“Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, prayers are for people. I have been happy with the system that has been in place for the past five years I have been a councillor and have no objections. 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.”

Can’t say fairer than that – unless you’re council leader Mike Mitchelson, of course. He doesn’t mince his words, if he can help it.

“We traditionally have prayers at the start of our meetings and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue to do so,” he said.

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

Well said, Mike. Unbelievable it most definitely is. Though, you’d have to admit that on this occasion it would appear to be a victory for the unbelieving.

But while secular triumph over faith is one thing, quite why the war was necessary in the first place is a puzzle.

According to the vicar of St Cuthbert’s, Carlisle, it’s actually quite sinister. And he should know – vicars at St Cuthberts have been chaplain to the mayor since the time of Oliver Cromwell.

“I’m amazed one person can overturn centuries of tradition in this country and that he (Devon councillor Clive Bone) has the right to do that,” said the Rev Keith Teasdale.

“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.”

Steady on there, Keith. The annihilation of more than 2,000 years of belief will need a bigger plan of attack than the single complaining side-swipe of a councillor somewhere in Devon.

He is a man spooked by the power of simple faith, freaked by a short prayer, “embarrassed and disadvantaged” when in the company of believers.

Everything points to the problem being his. And Christianity – along with all other major faiths – has overcome much bigger hurdles than this one.

Crackpot human rights rulings though – well, they might prove to be a different collection of catechisms altogether.

Have your say

Dave, it is said that Google is not a synonym for research, and while Bob T seems to appreciate this and has looked deeper into the subject, you have pottered happily at the surface and dug out some half truths. Various state constitutions may well say that any belief is allowed, but in reality there may well be quiet (and possibly illegal?) background checks about any applicant. For instance. in the job I first got here, almost the very first thing I was asked was "which church do you go to?". A very simple question indeed, and how can you make people NOT ask that? And if that question is asked at an interview for a high ranking government post, what does the non christian applicant say?

I think that the best way for anyone to understand the situation here is to actually live here - no amount of googling will give the true picture.

Posted by Expat Marra on 24 February 2012 at 19:35

From the Arkansas state constitution:
Article 19 Section 1.
"No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court"

Posted by Bob T on 23 February 2012 at 12:59

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