It takes only a small spark to relight a smouldering fire. Such a spark was struck recently in Bideford town hall in north Devon: a few days ago a High Court judge ruled that it was unlawful for local councils to include Christian prayers in their formal meetings. This was in response to a legal challenge from a former councillor and atheist, Clive Bone, in association with the campaigning National Secular Society. Bone had objected to the intrusion of Christianity into the corridors of power, humble though they might seem in Bideford.
Let’s take it from the top.
Well, OK, not quite from the top top — He‘s not regularly in touch with the likes of us. But She (you know, that Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha woman — or whatever he name is this week) is all for a bit of obligatory Befragenfest. Even though she has a proprietary interest.
Malcolm agrees with the Marrin thesis.
For Malcolm counts himself among —
He also had to stand through the local government praying bit. When Labour took control of his first local authority, all that happened to that agenda item was the local Anglican found himself taking turns with the Free Churchers , the Rabbi, and — on one celebrated occasion — a humanist. None of which went to mitigate the rancors that filled the next two or more hours.
A wake-up call
Aw, c’mon! You knew that threadbare cliché had to be there somewhere! So, from ConHome here it comes:
Eric Pickles has written to councils to confirm that the general power of competence in the Localism Act includes the legal right to say prayers at the start of their meetings. This guidance is felt to effectively overturn the court ban on prayers last week. Remember you read it first here.
“Last week’s case should be seen as a wake-up call.
“For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned.
“We are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.”
My, my! The odd split-infinitive. Every turgid regurgitation in the book. A bit of gratuitous nationalism. “Public sector” bad: “private sector” presumably theocratic and good. Does the man have a single original idea or expression? Wouldn’t George Orwell (“staleness of imagery; … lack of precision”) revel in this one!
So, Pickles, what happens in a local council where a majority of elected members are not just non-Christian, but actively “other faiths”? Would an Iman from one those Mosques need a special licence? Or would Special Branch need prior information, just in case?
Now consider this, from the North Devon Gazette, and presumably the word from the horse’s mouth:
Councillor Trevor Johns, Bideford Town Mayor, said that saying prayers before the official proceedings started was missing a vital point.
Mr Johns said: “The reason prayers are the first thing on the agenda is because they are the Mayor’s prerogative.
“The councillors should be seated in the chamber before they stand for the Mayor’s arrival, which is then followed by the prayers.
“It is a matter of respect and something which I think has been forgotten in this business.”
Malcolm reckons that means mayorality precedes godliness. However great the divinity, in Bideford the Mayor takes precedence: respect’ (a Norf Lunnun concept) for the former leads to the same for the latter.
Then there’s another thought: the belligerent language —
- “We are striking a blow” [Pickles]
- “I have got plans afoot for us to do battle” [Mayor Johns of Bideford]
It reminds Malcolm of a friend (let’s call him Ken), a good and good-living Northern Irishman, who turned out when Billy Graham, having endorsed the Vietnam war, came to London to preach peace-and-goodwill to all men.
Ken had certain moral objections to this mixed-message. He joined a group of fellow spirits outside the mission. For some reason or other, the faithful took exception to this, and confrontations developed (this is known as “evangelism”). Ken was confronted by a muscular Christian (hereinafter MC):
- MC: You probably believe in … spit … evolution!
- Ken: Yeah. Why not.
- MC: There’s no evidence! How can we, made in God’s image, be descended from apes!
- Ken (who’d had enough, but unwisely): Well, have a look in the mirror some time.
The punch-line [sic] amounts to Ken up a lamp-post, yelling:
- Ken: Here’s a Christian wants to hit me!
If the ConHome (though this is, admittedly and explicitly, the not-very-bright Harry Phibbs) lot need exposing any further to realities, there’s this nonsense:
I rather doubt that councillors hoping to win elections would invite along Moonies or Scientologists to open their proceedings. But in so far as atheist councillors walk out I suspect they would be less likely to do so if a rabbi or an iman were leading proceedings.
As to the content of those two sentences, Malcolm suggests:
- No way. Don’t be dafter than you habitually show yourself.
- What don’t you comprehend in “atheist”?
Notice that Phibbs is referencing himself with that hot-link. Curiously, when one gets there, Phibbs has a moment of revelation about the activities of Hammersmith and Fulham:
A rather British compromise has now been agreed. Prayers take place in the council chamber 10 minutes before the start of official proceedings.
Oddly enough, Phibbs, that’s all most of us (but not Mayor Johns of Bideford) would want or demand.