Prayers back on the agenda

Windle parish councillor Nancy Ashcroft
Windle parish councillor Nancy Ashcroft
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PARISH councillors in Windle have vowed to continue their tradition of saying prayers before meetings.

The St Helens Reporter told last week how an unnamed representative on Windle Parish Councillor had threatened to become the first in the country to resign over a High Court ruling banning prayers at council meetings.

However, at last Tuesday’s meeting all nine councillors gathered prior to official business to decide whether to hold prayers.

In discussion with clerk Len Kilshaw, they decided to continue holding prayers unless they receive written instructions to stop.

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

Councillor Nancy Ashcroft (pictured) said: “We asked the clerk if he’d had any correspondence on this and he’d had nothing to say we couldn’t carry on so we’ll carry on as normal.”

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

Coun Ashcroft, who has served on the council for more than 20 years, added: “Why are we giving in to a minority group.

“I don’t have a problem with non-believers. It’s small-mindness on the National Secular Society’s part, really. This is yet another stripping away of our Christen culture.”

Deputy chairwoman Coun Ashcroft told last week how 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.

“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.”

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