Richard Cary [ex Archbish of Cantebury] has said that Bideford coucillors should continue with prayers before meetings.
By doing so he is actually advocating breaking the law as Mr Justice Ouseley has written - 'there is no specific statutory power to say prayers or to have any period of quiet reflection as part of the business of the Council.' And, from a prior case, '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 necessarily 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 fee, 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.'
Accordingly Justice Ouseley has concluded [that]...'the Council has no power to hold prayers as part of a formal Council meeting, or to summon Councillors to a meeting at which such prayers are on the agenda.'
IMO this is the correct conclusion in law and the former Archbishop Carey's comments amount to little more than the usual special pleading and complaint that religion is being marginalised in society. It is not being marginalised: it is simply being put in its rightfull place as one interest group amongst many many other interest groups in society and has no 'as of right' claim to special priviledge or exemption from the law.
As has been noted elsewhere, there is nothing in his ruling that precludes Councils from holding prayer or meditation or whatever meetings prior to the start of official Council business. Attendance at those would be voluntary and would therefore not be discriminatory of any of other faiths or of none.
Difficult to see why Carey doesn't grok this but easy enough to see why he doesn't want to.