Eric Pickles gives councils back the freedom to pray

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (18 February 2012) gave local councils a major new power that will allow town halls to continue to hold prayers.

Local councils now have a power that should enable them to continue to include prayers as part of the formal business at council meetings, if they wish, and thereby maintain the common practice in council meetings across the country.

This responds to last week's High Court ruling against Bideford Town Council based on an interpretation of Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 rather than on equality or human rights grounds. It judged that councils did not have the powers to hold prayers as part of formal business.

This major new legal power is contained in the Coalition Government's Localism Act 2011, which creates a 'general power of competence' that will allow councils to legally do anything an individual could do unless specifically prohibited by law. This should give councils that want to continue holding formal prayers the confidence and legal standing to do so.

Mr Pickles has fast-tracked and personally signed a Parliamentary Commencement Order so the new power can be exercised by all major local authorities in England from today and following due Parliamentary process for parishes by April.

Today's intervention builds on the speech by the Prime Minister in Christ Church, Oxford, in December, where he asserted: "We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so". It also follows the official Ministerial delegation to the Holy See this week led by Cabinet Minister, Baroness Warsi; in her speech, she criticised the intolerance of "militant secularisation".

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

"The High Court judgement has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council. For too long, faith has been marginalised in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation.

"As a matter of urgency I have personally signed a Parliamentary order to bring into force an important part of the new Localism Act – the general power of competence – that gives councils the vital legal standing that should allow them to continue to hold formal prayers at meetings where they wish to do so.

"This should effectively overtake the ruling and it also shows that greater localism can give local councils the strength and freedom to act in their best interests.

"We will stand for freedom to worship, for Parliamentary sovereignty, and for long-standing British liberties."

This article has been taken from www.communities.gov.uk – http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/2091511