Prayers before council meetings that take into account Britain’s Christian heritage could help in the fight against extremism, says Sir Edward Leigh.
The Rasen MP also told parliament today that the UK is at risk of being severed from its Judeo-Christian roots, leaving it more open to manipulation from a tyrant in the mould of Hitler or Stalin.
Sir Edward said councils should take into account that heritage if they are to conduct prayers before meetings because “a little religion actually stops outrageous intolerance”.
Most councils in Lincolnshire no longer have prayers at meetings, with Market Rasen Town Council and West Lindsey District Council, for example, preferring to have their prayers just before the meetings officially begin.
The issue has been contentious in the county, with Market Rasen Conservative district and county councillor Burt Keimach calling for prayer bans at council meetings, saying such worship discriminates against non-Christians.
Recently, Local Government & Communities Minister Eric Pickles ruled councils were free to choose.
Sir Edward, the former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher claimed Britain’s whole foundation is built on Christian values and that should be recognised in local government.
Moving an amendment to the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill calling for councils to “keep in mind the Judeo-Christian tradition” of the country when conducting prayers, he claimed a lack of religion could be to blame for growing extremism in the UK.
He told the Commons: “What is frightening is that so many of these (jihadists) are not immigrants to this land but are born and raised here.
“Perhaps a generation before them was raised in a religious context whether individuals were personally pious or not.
“The increasing absence of religion from our society makes it more difficult for us to comprehend Islam.
“That absence also creates personal difficulties for many people who seek a deeper meaning in life.
“Therefore I believe that things like prayers before council meetings - a little religion actually stops outrageous intolerance.”
He went on: “This is our past, this is our foundation, this is what has made us free.
“We cannot therefore say ‘oh well we’ve got to have a sort of time of reflection before council meetings and anything goes’.
“Because otherwise we just lose contact with our history and I think actually in losing contact with our history of tolerance which has been the foundation, the essence of the British state, we actually encourage religious extremism, because often it’s the families where there is absolutely no religion that people are led astray sometimes into following bizarre sects and the rest.
“There is a grave danger of we in Britain becoming severed from our roots, lacking an understanding of our history, such a deracinated population would be much easier to manipulate whether it’s a Hitler or Stalin or some other modern day tyrant whose dominion you fear.”
Sir Edward also claimed traditionally Christian countries are the most successful economically because they are the most tolerant.
He said: “Is it any wonder that what we can fairly describe as the traditionally Christian countries are the ones that today are so tolerant of those of other faiths or indeed of none?
“Indeed the traditionally Christian societies are the most successful economically because they are tolerant of all other beliefs.
“It is that tolerance that has laid our economic success.
“When we look at the past 50 years and observe officially atheist states like the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or officially Islamic republics like Iran and Pakistan, we find their level of tolerance disappointing at best.”
The Tory MP said there was no reason for anyone to be offended by Christian prayers in councils.
Sir Edward said: “Anyone who is grievously offended by the Christian nature of prayers in councils I believe needs to have some regards to the roots of our country.
“While I am sure both sides of the argument would agree that we should not be a nation of triumphant Christian supremacists, nor should we be a nation of mollycoddlers seeking to wrap the entire population in a protective layer of liberal gauze.”
The Bill, which enjoys warm support from both front benches, was introduced by Tory MP Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen).
The Bill allows for prayers at the start of council meetings but leaves to each authority decisions about length, format and faith.
Sir Edward’s amendment to the Bill was withdrawn amid concern too few MPs were in Westminster for a quorum to be reached in the Commons - meaning the Bill would stall if any votes were called.