Row over council prayers continues to boil
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Members of Kendal Town Council this week voted to move a prayer session it holds at the beginning of its meetings to five minutes before the meetings are due to start. The row had erupted about the prayers after atheist Councillor Enda Farrell, who represents the Far Cross ward and is a member of the National Secular Society, complained that the prayers could lead to some people feeling excluded.
When making his complaint to the council this summer, Coun Farrell said the prayers made non-participants "feel like second class citizens", he argued that he had joined a secular council and threatened to consider legal action under the Human Rights Act. However, other councillors claimed it was a "Christian Council" and the tradition of prayers was not exclusive.
At the meeting on Monday councillors rejected proposals to abandon saying prayers or switching to a reflective period of quiet in favour of continuing the prayers, only earlier – described by Kendal Mayor John Bateson as "status quo plus".
"We continue to look at ways of involving other faiths and have moved it to five minutes before the start, rather than at the beginning of the meeting, so that councillors who don’t wish to be there don’t have to be," said Coun Bateson. "It was a very good debate. The town itself is evolving and we want to make sure that we are in touch with how the town is changing."
However, Enda Farrell said he was "bitterly disappointed" by the resolution. He told the local paper : "My objection is that there are going to be prayer groups in the chamber where the council meetings are going to be held," he said. "I think that it is not good practice for other councillors to have to wait in the hallway waiting for the meeting to finish. I believe that if they want to pray they should do it on their way to the meeting or in a different room. As a secularist I believe that we should be representing everyone. We don’t need the blessing of somebody’s God before the meeting."
Coun Farrell said he was considering whether he wanted to remain as a councillor and also said he would explore legal challenges to the authority’s decision.