Parliament now has to face a new problem, which is how to legislate to reverse the decision made yesterday by Mr Justice Ouseley, that the 600 year old practice of Bideford council to say prayers at the start of each council session are not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act of 1972. Because there is one thing which is for certain, the attack upon Christian belief in this country is plumbing the depths of what reasonable people will accept. This ruling is in itself a catalyst which will have prompted a fight back which will set those determind to impose their own secular beliefs upon a Christian society into reverse.
In December, David Cameron described Great Britain as ‘a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so’. This sentence in itself is revealing. Of course we shouldn’t be afraid to say so, but when a van driver loses his job for hanging a crucifix from his cab mirror or a social worker is suspended for wearing a cross and chain around her neck, people are afraid, which is why those words were included in the speech. There is recognition that Christians are being silenced by systemic attack upon their faith and constantly being challenged through the courts.
Bideford council had already voted twice to continue with their prayer tradition following attempts by Liberal Democrat councillor, Mr Bone to have them stopped on the basis that he, a lonely-voiced councillor who wanted them to cease, was having his human rights infringed as he felt embarrassed having to leave the chamber whilst the prayers took place. Not happy, lonely LibDem Mr Bone went to court. It seems he’s not too keen on democracy.
Interestingly, and with a sigh of relief from many, the judge found that Mr Bone’s human rights had not been infringed and it appears the judge took his decision upon what would be described as a narrow technical point. I have bad news for Mr Bone. Parliament doesn’t have much difficulty in dealing with ‘technical points’. Mr Bone is no hero secular warrior. As the voice upon earth of the Bideford branch of the National Secular Society, his action was supported by the larger organisation.
I once regarded the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association in much the same vein, two organisations which believed in, well, nothing much really and were therefore harmless. I have learnt during my time as an MP that both are very far from harmless, extremely political and intent on imposing their anti-faith view, which is in itself rigid and dogmatic, pursued mainly by zealots, so it can only be described as a form of belief in its own right. This, in a country in which 70% of people describe themselves as Christian.
If the National Secular Society had its way, all vestige of religion would be removed from the state and society. Without doubt, their next move will be to have the same ruling applied to Parliament, but that isn’t going to happen. If Mr Bone had won under section nine of the Human Rights act it can only be imagined what would happen to the Queen as head of the Church of England and her role within the state. Would prayers be said at a Coronation or a state funeral? Would the Queen be able to continue as the Monarch? What would have happened to Remembrance Sunday, bank holidays at Easter and Christmas?
It is only when someone attempts to unpick the accepted fabric of our society that one begins to realise the extent to which the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association wish to alter our spiritual landscape which is based upon tolerance and freedom. In Parliament, we also have prayers which take place each and every sitting day before the chamber's business commences. The division bell will ring five minutes before and we MPs who wish to participate in prayers attend the chamber. It is an intimate service which takes place before the cameras are switched on, presided over by the Speaker and the House of Commons Chaplain during which we all say the Lord’s Prayer together, pray for the Queen and ask to be given wisdom during the day in executing our duties.
The three minutes of prayer are a time for sombre reflection and always during this time the privilege I have been afforded to serve my constituents in the historic mother of parliaments washes over me as I am sure it does others. It is a wonderful thing to begin your days work saying sorry for what you have done wrong and thank you for all that has gone well. Those MPs of no faith will sit or stand and read the order paper or simply take the time to reflect upon the day ahead. It works for us.
Until this is sorted, and I am sure it can be with existing legislation or via a Statutory Instrument, I would urge Bideford councillors to meet five minutes before their agenda begins until legislation can allow them to continue with a practice which has been in place since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It would be a travesty for Mr Bone to win in reality. What is certain though is that re-election for Mr Bone is unlikely. The British people are reasonable by nature and don’t like bullies, and Mr Bone appears to shun one and embody the other.