It seems that prayers will not be forming part of the official Cornwall Council agenda for at least the next two months following the high court ruling in a case brought over Bideford Town Council.
Council Chairman Pat Harvey, after consultation with Monitoring Officer Richard Williams, has decided that the ruling means that Cornwall Council would be out of line with the law if it continued with its practice of having prayers as the first item on the agenda for full council meetings. And so she has decided to remove prayers from the meetings in February and March whilst waiting for the details of the ruling to come down.
Instead, at 10.20am on full council day there will be a chance for members to meet for a period of reflection in the council chamber before the meeting gets underway at 10.30am.
As someone who does not have a religious faith, I tend to stay outside of the chamber during prayers and only take my seat after they have finished. The same is true of around a dozen of my colleagues. I think that this system has worked pretty well for the three years that the council has been in existence.
I'd prefer that prayers were not formally on the agenda (particularly when we, as councillors, are formally 'summoned' to attend) but I have no problem with a short religious event taking place before the meeting for those who wish to attend.
From the reactions of my colleagues to a local newspaper request for thoughts on the subject, it seems that a majority are in favour of prayer remaining a part of full council day. But thanks to the Bideford case, it looks like we might not get to make that decision.