The Local Government Secretary has welcomed the passing of a new law to ensure all councils have the right to hold prayers at the start of their meetings.
The Local Government (Religious Observances) Act received Royal Assent from the Queen on Thursday (26 March 2015) after clearing its final stages in Parliament this week.
The Act puts beyond any doubt the fact that all councils, including parishes, can choose to hold prayers at the start of the sessions, maintaining the longstanding British tradition.
The government-backed legislation was taken through Parliament by Jake Berry MP and Lord Cormack following legal challenges against some councils which conduct prayers.
The Act builds on the Localism Act which gave a general power of competence to councils and allow councils to pray; the power of competence did not apply to small parish councils. The Act also makes clear that councils can support any religious event or event with a religious element - such as commemoration services.
Communities and Local Government Secretary and Minister for Faith Eric Pickles said:
The right to worship is a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty, and the fight for religious freedom in British history is deeply entwined with the political freedoms we take for granted.
Building on what we have already delivered through the Localism Act, this further Act strikes a further victory for localism, for freedom to worship over intolerant and aggressive secularism, for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness, and for parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism.
Jake Berry MP said:
Councils should have every right to hold their traditional prayers sessions if they choose to. No one is forced to take part but everyone who wants to should have that freedom and this should never have been a matter for the courts.
I’m really pleased that we have now made the law crystal clear and that councillors, including those in parish councils, can now conduct their prayers free from the threat of legal challenge.
This Act supports our fundamental core British values of faith in our society and people’s freedom to observe their own religion and beliefs without interference from the courts.
Lord Cormack, a former member of the General Synod of the Church of England, added:
It has been a privilege to take this Bill through the House of Lords. While there has been some opposition, it is clear that this gentle, permissive legislation has the overwhelming support of parliamentarians.