A motion to remove prayers from Daventry District Council meetings has been rejected after a fierce debate between councillors.
Labour councillors Ken Ritchie and Aiden Ramsey had brought forward the motion as they believed that the council was a secular institution ‘which serves people of all faiths and none’, saying that the traditional religious act should not form part of formal council agendas.
The debate was watched with interest by Canon Michael Webber, who delivered his prayers as usual at the start of the meeting, but stayed on to see if his services would any longer be required.
Councillor Ritchie said: “A majority of people in this country now identify themselves as having no faith. This motion is not against religion, it recognises the important part it plays. But we need a council that reflects the residents it serves, and we are a secular institution.”
The motion said that arrangements should be made so that councillors who wished to pray in the council offices before the meetings began could do so.
But Conservative councillor Richard Auger said: “It’s impossible to deny that we are a Christian country with an established church. A lot of people consider themselves ‘cultural Christians’. I do find it really ironic that this is discussed as we approach the major Christian festival - so much for goodwill to all men.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Catherine Lomax, who spoke as an agnostic, said the motion was ‘strange’.
She said: “To me it supports separation and division. Prayers should be about coming together in a silent moment of reflection to focus our minds on the tasks in front of us. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to suggest that other spiritual leaders are occasionally invited to perform the function.”
Colin Morgan, a Conservative, said: “To me this seems about a marginalisation of christianity. All we would do is replace Canon Webber’s five minutes with another five minutes of nonsense from Councillor Ritchie.”
In response, Councillor Ramsey said that the motion was not against religion, but said that by including prayers on the agenda it implied that the council was a Christian organisation.
Fellow Labour councillor Wendy Randall abstained from voting on the issue, but said: “I actually enjoy the prayers, but some people seem to forget their message because there is bullying in this chamber. To me, listen and truly reflect on what is being said, and maybe have a bit more respect for each other in the chamber.”
The motion was rejected, and Canon Webber will continue with the prayers at the start of each full council meeting.