Exactly what part should prayers play, if any at all, in government proceedings at both national and locals?
That question is being raised, once again, in the UK – in fact in Wales, where we used to live.
Campaigners are calling on one of the country’s 22 regional authorities, Carmarthenshire, to drop its Christian prayers which take place at the start of every full meeting of the council. They say that prayers have no place at such meetings and should be dropped.
At Camarthen, those councillors who don’t wish to take part in the prayers don’t enter the chamber until they are finished but the campaigners say that is divisive.
Of the 22 councils, 12 have prayers and of the 10 that don’t, Newport, has a separate voluntary prayer service prior to each council meeting.
There are more than two schools of thought here. The one espoused by the campaigners and the UK’s National Secular Society that religion of any kind should not have a place in public administration.
The other extreme is to leave things as they are now and to maintain the Christian prayers but there is a middle way that has been adopted by some town councils in America, and maybe elsewhere, which is to invite representatives from different faiths to attend on a rota basis to lead the prayers.
One Newport councillor, Miqdad Al-Nuiami, agrees and says he would like other religions to be included.
He said: “It used to be a formal part of the council meetings, and I always attended it. There were some Christian members who delayed their entry until after that part, presumably to indicate their feeling that it should be secular, irrespective of which religion.
“I did actually diversify it, I had the council invite other faiths as well but some members took exception to that. I had a lady from the Sikh community, a couple of councillors walked out which I found slightly intolerant.
“I think what the council does now is a very good way of dealing with it. I would be supportive of that being widened to other faiths and indeed to the secular society. Let’s be open to people’s views and prayers,” he added.
Regular readers of the blog will know that although I have a religious faith, it is not Christian nor any other mainstream religion – and I say it again, now, to declare my interest. That being said, we should all be tolerant of other people’s choice of faiths or atheism and let them all worship, or not, in any way they choose.
I don’t think any one-faith prayers should have any place in council meetings. Any prayers should not just be non-denominational either. They should be interfaith and done in such a way as to be inclusive for non-believers too, in a similar way to those who wish to can affirm instead of taking an oath in court.
Here’s my suggestion, for what it may be worth: Perhaps councils could replace prayers on their agendas with A Moment of Reflection. This would be a brief silence which each councillor could use to prepare for the meeting in his or her own way. It would be both inter-faith and non-faith, inclusive, tolerant and should not cause any offence.