Can public prayer be prayed at local government meetings in England? Given the establishment status of the Church of England and its active role in Her Majesty’s government you’d think the answer was an unqualified yes. But in a small community in England, a ban on public prayer at town council meetings has sparked a row over whether or not there should be limits.
An atheist member of the Bidford town council took the council to court after losing two votes on the question. The court ruled in what may be a precedent setting decision that the government had no “authority to compel citizens to hear prayer”.
“The Conservative-led British government has quickly attempted to counteract the ban and defend the official status of Christianity — more specifically, the Church of England. At a time when half of Britons claim no religious affiliation, however, the Conservatives are also going one step further — blaming a loss of “traditional values” for such social ills as binge drinking and last year’s riots in London.[…]The parameters of discussion in Britain remain sharply different from those in the United States. Though a small fringe here still argues against legal abortion and publicly funded contraception, such issues were considered settled even by many Conservatives long ago. And Prime Minister David Cameron, though not without pushback from his far right, has gone further than President Obama by openly backing same-sex marriage, arguing that equal rights are a fundamental facet of Christian values.”
The Queen’s recent remarks that the Church of England is often underappreciated and occasionally misunderstood established religious voice the kingdom were seen as a veiled reference to the court decision.
British critics of the government’s decision are worried that this move is an attempt to import the American culture wars into Great Britain.
“It is extraordinary to me to see a modern British government promoting religion,” said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. “It’s an indication that the Conservatives are flying a kite to see whether the tactics of the American Republicans might fly here. I have a strong suspicion they won’t. Britain is not America, and in trying to establish a religious right, Cameron will find himself shot in the foot.”
You can read the full article here in the Washington Post.
Are the critics right? Is Britain in danger of going down the same divisive path that we Americans have been following for decades? Or is this an overreaction to a small local story? Is the situation profoundly different as the article implies and there’s no reason for general alarm? Any folks from Great Britain care to weigh in?