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England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions >> National Secular Society & Anor, R (on the application of) v Bideford Town Council  EWHC 175 (Admin) (10 February 2012)
Cite as:  BLGR 211,  Eq LR 326,  ACD 56,  2 All ER 1175,  HRLR 12,  EWHC 175 (Admin)
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QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY
|MR CLIVE BONE
|BIDEFORD TOWN COUNCIL
Mr J Dingemans QC and Mr T Poole (instructed by Aughton Ainsworth Solicitors) for the
Hearing dates: 2nd December 2011
Crown Copyright ©
MR JUSTICE OUSELEY :
"A full Council meeting starts with everyone being asked to stand whilst the Mayor enters the Chamber. Once the Mayor is in his place he will ask everyone to sit. The offering of prayer is at the invitation of the Mayor after he has formally opened the meetings. The mayor will then introduce the invited Minister and he/she will then proceed to offer prayers. Councillors and members of the public are not expected to participate in prayer and are free to leave the Council Chamber during the saying of prayers. During prayers Councillors are seated.
The prayer offered is a prayer led by a Christian Minister from one of the local churches. In all there are about 8 Christian churches in Bideford and each have, at one time or another, been invited to say prayers.
The prayer time normally takes about 2-3 minutes. After the prayers have been said and the person leading the prayers has left the Chamber, apologies are taken. For those who do not wish to stay in the Chamber during prayers they are able to come back into the Chamber during the time prayers have finished and apologies are taken."
The nature of the issue
The Local Government Act 1972 and vires
"The precepts of any one religion, and belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of another. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.
So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and express religious beliefs. Equally firmly, it must eschew any protection for such a belief's content in the name only of its religious credentials. Both principles are necessary conditions for a free and rational regime."
"(3) A Person ("A") discriminates against another ("B") for the purposes of this Part if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice-
(a) which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of B's religion or belief,(b) which puts persons of B's religion or belief at a disadvantage compared to some or all others (where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances),(c) which puts B at a disadvantage compared to some or all persons who are not of his religion or belief (where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances), and(d) which A cannot reasonably justify by reference to matters other than B's religion or belief."
"(1) A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B's.
2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a provision, criterion or practice is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B's if-
(a) A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and(d) A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim."
Articles 9 and 14 ECHR