Devon council takes legal action over prayer row

Hands clasped in prayer
Image caption The NSS claims prayers before council meetings are "not appropriate in modern-day Britain"

A Devon council embroiled in a row over Christian prayers being said at meetings has taken legal advice.

It follows a High Court application by the National Secular Society (NSS) for a judicial review.

The NSS claims Bideford Town Council is discriminating against other beliefs and non-believers, breaching human rights and acting beyond its power.

A Manchester law firm which offered to represent the council for free has had its offer taken up by the authority.

The NSS action was prompted by Bideford atheist councillor Clive Bone, who failed to have the prayers stopped.

The society claims holding prayers before council meetings is an "archaic practice" which is "not appropriate in modern-day Britain".

Aughton Ainsworth solicitor Tom Ellis contacted Bideford's Town Clerk after reading about the legal threat in the media.

"Although it might be a local issue, the implications are national," he told BBC News.

"There are also possible ramifications for any organisation with a religious connection."

Mr Ellis said he had been instructed to inform the High Court of the council's intention to contest the claims made by the NSS.

George McLaughlan, Bideford Town Council clerk, said: "The solicitor was down here talking to us last week.

"He will work with the Christian Institute to defend the case.

"He has until Friday to file his intent to contest proceedings and then if permission is granted by the High Court for a judicial review to go ahead, we will have to supply further detailed evidence."

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