PRAYERS before council meetings help focus the mind, a faith group in Hounslow claimed today following a landmark ruling which could see them banned.
The High Court today (Friday, February 10) ruled Bideford Town Council, in Devon, had acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said before meetings.
The judgement, which follows a complaint from the National Secular Society (NSS), could affect local councils across the country.
In Hounslow, prayers are said before every full council meeting.
Mayor Amrit Mann invites a representative from a different faith to give a brief reading before each monthly meeting.
Bessie White, of Hounslow Friends of Faith (HFF), today defended the readings, which she helps coordinate.
"I think it should be up to the local authority itself to make the decision," she told the Chronicle.
"HFF tries to link people of faith from whatever tradition, which we feel is beneficial, but does not imposing its ideas on any group.
"Many people find having a short prayer before council meeting helpful. It gives a non-material perspective and allows people to pause before the cut and thrust of debating.
"If people don't feel it's for them it only lasts for a short time and I hope they would be able to respect those who find it helps."
The High Court decision was not based on the Human Rights Act, on which the NSS had founded its challenge, but on the wording of the 1972 Local Government Act.
Sittings in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords begin with Christian prayers, though attendance is voluntary.