Wales

Campaign for prayers at council meetings to be banned

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Campaigners have called for Christian prayers at county council meetings to be abolished - saying it is not appropriate in democratic institutions.

Of the 22 Welsh councils, 12 told BBC Wales they hold prayers before meetings and 10 do not.

Some hold prayers as part of the meeting with non-participants waiting outside, while for others it is a separate pre-meeting.

A blogger's online petition called the practice "divisive".

The National Secular Society also called for the practice to end, saying religious worship should play no part in the formal business of council meetings.

"We think local government meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, regardless of their individual religious beliefs or lack of belief," it said.

The Church in Wales has said councils should consult each member and decide for themselves whether the practice was appropriate.

Carmarthenshire council - the authority at which the online petition is aimed - said prayers are for about half a minute before business begins and those who do not wish to be part of this usually stand outside.

Newport council changed its system more than a year ago so prayers became a separate voluntary session prior to meetings.

Miqdad Al-Nuiami, who represents Stow Hill for Newport city council, said he would like other religions to be included.

"It used to be a formal part of the council meetings, and I always attended it. There were some Christian members who delayed their entry until after that part, presumably to indicate their feeling that it should be secular, irrespective of which religion."

'Intolerant'

Mr Al-Nuiami added: "I did actually diversify it, I had the council invite other faiths as well.

"Some members took exception to that. I had a lady from the Sikh community, a couple of councillors walked out which I found slightly intolerant.

"I think what the council does now is a very good way of dealing with it. I would be supportive of that being widened to other faiths and indeed to the secular society.

"Let's be open to people's views and prayers."

A spokeswoman for the Church in Wales said: "We believe in the power of prayer and would encourage people to pray for God's guidance, help and support before all meetings.

"However, prayer is not something you can force anyone to do or not to do, so we would urge each council to consult its members and decide for itself."

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