Chair of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman questions prayers before council meetings


- Credit: Archant

My topic this week is the esoteric subject of prayers before council meetings. It may be esoteric, but it occupied a good chunk of parliamentary time in a debate on January 16.

Our very own Lyn Brown MP weighed in with a speech in favour of a Bill aimed at preserving this ancient institution.

An unexpected champion for the Humanist and secularist position was Conservative James Arbuthnot MP. He explained that, although he had a religious upbringing, he was no longer in the least religious. He went on to say that the pressure particularly on Conservatives to conform is such that it had taken 28 years, and the fact he is not standing at the next election, to make this public confession.

Mr Arbuthnot pointed out that the Bill will allow council business time to be taken up with prayers that some council members may find embarrassing or even anathema. He illustrated this by describing the situation in the US where there is a constitutional right for such prayers. It has been ruled, as it is bound to be here, that there should be no discrimination as to which belief may offer them. Hence a much tweeted meeting of the City Commission held last year at Lake Worth City, Florida, commenced with the invocation: “May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan.” The speech went on to praise Zeus and various other deities.

Many of us have been to countless meetings of one sort or another, whether for work, or residents associations or any number of different types of committee. There may be a case for quiet reflection at the beginning. But it is hard to think of any where it would have helped to start by listening to people praying. Of course if people wish to pray beforehand in their own time then they can do so. The Bill is another depressing example of a Parliament out of touch in promoting the continuation of an outdated practice which has no place in any other modern organisation. More from Paul Kaufman

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