Before we start, let us pray, says council

West Lindsey HQ EMN-140608-131811001
West Lindsey HQ EMN-140608-131811001

Council meetings at West Lindsey will have prayers before they start, rather than as part of them, says council leader Jeff Summers.

His comments follow former leader Bert Keimach writing to the council and its members claiming WLDC could find itself within breach of the law.

In the letter, the Market Rasen district councillor says the High Court ruled “prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is unlawful and that there was no statutory power permitting this practice to continue.”

Coun Keimach said: “I am somewhat dismayed that WLDC keeps flouting the law on this national issue. Our own County Council quite sensibly and simply has Prayers as a pre-Agenda item, thereby allowing members a choice.”

Two years ago Coun Keimach tried to remove prayers from council meetings, but lost a vote 35-to-2.

Last week, WLDC said the council was entitled to continue holding prayers as part of the council agenda. The council claimed this was under the Localism Act. But the statement said the policy would be reviewed when the full council meets in September.

But council leader Jeff Summers told the Rasen Mail yesterday that the media statement was “contradictory.”

“Last night I discussed it with (monitoring officer) Alan Robinson who deals with protocols and practice. If we take the prayers off the agenda, then we are within the law. That’s what we intend to do. We will make changes and prayers will be held on traditional lines before the agenda,” he said.

There would be no review.

“There are lots of things that the council has to deal with other than prayers. It gets pathetic when you argue the toss about when you have prayers,” he said.

Market Rasen District Councillor Ken Bridger said prayers have now “recently been taken off the formal part of the agenda,” and those who wish to leave the chamber and not take part in prayers can.

“This is also the same at town council meetings. When I was mayor, I took the decision to move prayers from the agenda. Prayers still take place, but it is not a formal part of the proceedings,” he said.

Market Rasen Mayor John Matthews says people’s beliefs are their own and “if the churches want to continue to support the council, that’s fine.”

Paul Hiley, pastor of Market Rasen New Life Church, says it is a “privilege” to pray for the town council.

“My colleagues are often thanked by members of the council and my guess is that we are all willing to continue this service for as long as we are welcome,” he said.