Coming home from the Radio 4 Sunday programme just now from talking about council prayers for probably the last time this week, I have organised my thoughts in way that limited broadcast slots don’t allow:
1. Arguments from tradition (we’ve had prayers in councils since Elizabeth the First etc) are not enough. Social and cultural contexts change and we should re-evaluate what we do as a state from time to time and make sure we still have good reasons to do something.
2. I can’t think of any good reasons to have prayers of one particular religion in a public body that contains many people of non-Christian religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs and that serves a public which is similarly diverse.
3. Arguments that we should have prayers in our public life because we are ‘a Christian country’ are meaningless. We are not ‘a Christian country’: the last British Social Attitudes Survey showed 51% of people said they were not religious, over 90% of people are not regular church attenders and in addition there are many non-Christian religious citizens of the UK. In fact, many important pre-Christian, non-Christian and post-Christian factors have shaped our country over the centuries.
4. Perhaps once upon a time prayers may have been a cohesive practice, bringing our elected or appointed representatives together for shared reflection on their public duties, but they don’t serve that function in today’s society. If we actually think that such a function is necessary (and I can see how such reflection might be an appropriate punctuation of other workaday business) then it certainly can’t be served by prayers.
5. The real story over the last couple of days has been that of political Christian groups and misleading media outlets misrepresenting the nature of the court’s judgement – eg prayers were not ‘banned’, just prevented from being part of the formal business agenda and the ruling does NOT have consequences for other public bodies (unfortunately) – and using this to create a new chapter in their totally false narrative that Christianity is being attacked, persecuted, marginalised etc.
That’s it. Glad I got it off my chest.