Make a start on modernising by getting rid of parliamentary prayers, says NSS

NSS Newsline - June 26, 2009
Tuesday 7 July 2009
popularity : 1%

The National Secular Society has called for the removal of prayers in the Commons. It would "strike a blow for equality and modernity" and would be a tangible example of the radical reforms which are so badly needed in the House and which the newly-elected Speaker has committed himself to making. The call was made this week in a letter sent by Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society to Speaker Bercow and described prayers in the Commons Chamber as a "long-standing anachronism". Mr Porteous Wood added that "a number of MPs have mentioned to me their resentment that the only way that they can secure a seat of their choice is by attending prayers, even though they would prefer not to do so. The most charitable way this could be described is as a discourteous imposition; but to those who find prayers inappropriate or even offensive, it is a discriminatory obstacle to the performance of their duties that could easily be dispensed with."

He pointed out that: "Removing prayers from the Chamber would not preclude any religious services being held for Members elsewhere, for example in the Commons chapel, shortly before the start of sittings. ... Even the Northern Ireland Assembly has managed to function without any prayers at all; it has adopted a two minute silence since its initial debates ten years ago, without any difficulty.

"The UK is very much in the minority among Western democracies in having such arrangements in its Parliament. Britain is also by many measures one of the least religious countries in the world, and this is another major reason to change the current arrangements. Church attendance on an average Sunday is only around one in 15 of the population, and continuing to decline rapidly. Those in the UK who do not belong to any religion now outnumber those who consider they "belong" to Christianity, and while the former are increasing, the latter are decreasing."

Britain is also one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world, and while this gives further strength to the argument against exclusively Christian prayers, it may lead to calls for multi-faith prayers. We are convinced this would be even worse and more divisive than the current arrangements. There would be constant wrangling for more religions to be represented and resentment by those excluded.


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