Prayer in a Pickle

A ruling following a legal challenge from the National Secular Society this Friday stating that the saying of prayers during Bideford council meetings was unlawful has ignited criticisms from the Communities and Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles.

He commented that the judgment was “surprising and disappointing” and he believed that under the Localism Act councils ought to be allowed to say prayers.


The Localism Act 2011 changes the powers of local government in England. The measures affected by the Act include more elected mayors, more planning powers as regional strategies are abolished and the introduction of an ‘allocation scheme’ with regards to housing.

The judicial ruling was made under the Local Government Act 1972 and Pickles said in response to the ruling: “The Localism Act now gives councils a general power of competence – which allows them to undertake any general action that an individual could do unless it is specifically prohibited by law. Logically, this includes prayers before meetings.”  However Pickles was also clear if the law needed changing he was ready to amend the Localism Act to explicitly allow Christian prayer before council meetings if that is what members wanted.

How you can bring this into your politics essays:

1) The Localism Act owes more to New Labour’s decentralising agenda than to Conservative traditions of Thatcherism and One Nation. Both these trends agree that the government should concentrate power. (Relevant example for unit 1 Parties).
2) An example of parliamentary sovereignty over judicial rulings, as many expect the ruling to be reversed. In Britain judges do not have the power to overturn parliamentary legislation. (Relevant example for unit 2 Constitution and Judiciary)

Linda Epstein

Listen: A Today Programme interview with Lord Carey (former Archbishop of Canterbury)

Carey: Christianity “marginalised” (mp3)

Further reading

         The Localism Act



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