Councillor threatens to quit over prayer ban

Nancy Ashcroft
Nancy Ashcroft

A COUNCILLOR in St Helens threatened to become the first in the country to resign over a High Court ruling banning prayers at council meetings.

The senior councillor on Windle Parish Council told fellow members the ban on traditional prayers could force him to step down.

Wally Ashcroft and local resident Fred Bishop at the site of the proposed drive-thru at Windle Island.

Wally Ashcroft and local resident Fred Bishop at the site of the proposed drive-thru at Windle Island.

Windle is the only parish council in the borough to say prayers before its meetings.

Last night was the council’s first meeting since Mr Justice Ouseley ruled prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act.

The official agenda for the meeting included prayers but councillors were set to discuss how to respond to the ruling before the meeting then act accordingly.

Local Government secretary Eric Pickles intervened over the weekend, signing into law new powers allowing councils to act in any way that is lawful for individual citizens.

Deputy chairwoman Nancy Ashcroft said one of her long-standing colleagues - whom she declined to name - had threaten to quit over the original ruling, which she described as “misguided and potentially divisive.I feel very strongly on this issue that Christianity in this country is being side-lined,” she said.

“One of our councillors has told us he will resign if he can’t say prayers before the meeting.”

Coun Ashcroft, who has served on the parish council for 20 years, added: “We’re all Christians and just feel that this is plain wrong. “We’ve got Catholic and Anglicans on the council and it is just a simple prayer asking for God’s help us to serve the people of Windle as best we can.

“I think the ruling by Eric Pickles doesn’t go far enough. He’s sitting on the fence, really, and I’m saying that as a Tory.

Council clerk Len Kilshaw said it was likely prayers would continue but not on the official meeting agenda.

The ruling came after a complaint was brought against Bideford Town Council by the National Secular Society. But it says prayers can be said outside of the formal agenda.