Britain is far more secular than America, but they have problems with government bodies holding official prayer sessions too. In Cheshire, a town councillor actually left the beginning of a meeting rather than silently assent to an official prayer session. He received a lot of abuse for it -- many people in Cheshire apparently feel that if you aren't Christian, you shouldn't be in the local civil government.
This is England, right, and not Iran or Saudi Arabia?
Sandbach Town Councillor Richard Hoffmann told the NSS: "As I was leaving the room I was verbally abused by three members of the public saying I should be ashamed of myself, and that I shouldn't have stood for the council if I didn't want to say prayers."
The town mayor Dennis Robinson is reported to have told the local Crewe Chronicle that removing traditional prayers would be an "attack on Christianity". He opened Thursday's meeting by saying "anyone who wishes to leave may do so now."
I've got news for the people of Cheshire: the job description of town councillor does not include prayer and the job qualifications do not include "Must Be Christian." Prayers are for church. Or for the closet, if you find any value in the words of Jesus (which most conservative Christians do not, as that would be politically inconvenient).
And mayor Dennis Robinson... well, I'm afraid that I find myself unable to regard him as anything more than an idiot. Really, this is a man who thinks that an absence of explicit favoritism for and endorsement of Christianity would automatically qualify as an attack on Christianity. By that "reasoning," the fact that there aren't any Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu prayers means that Sandbach Town Council is attacking Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.
But of course that "reasoning" is utterly idiotic and no sane adult would endorse it. I doubt mayor Dennis Robinson holds those conclusions. Is the reason because he's so self-centered that he doesn't give any thought at all to the perspectives of others -- never mind the possible logical conclusions of the words that seem to fly randomly and thoughtlessly out of his mouth?
And remember: in the eyes of a majority of voters in Sandbach, Dennis Robinson was intelligent and qualified enough to serve as their mayor. What does this say about them?
At least some voters there are intelligent, though, because they voted for Richard Hoffmann: a atheist who recognizes illegal behavior when he sees it, who won't silently stand by and accept such behavior, and who will act to stop illegal behavior. That's exactly the sort of person you should want serving in government.
Cllr Hoffmann told the NSS: "As far as I am concerned, when the Mayor and their deputy is in the council chamber, and all Councillors are standing up, the formal meeting has started. I believe they have broken the law.
"My view on prayers at council meetings is that they should not be part of the formal meeting. I am an atheist, and strongly believe that church and state should be kept separate. If the council wants to have prayers, they should have them 10 minutes before the meeting."
Official prayers have already been removed from the meetings of Bideford Council. They weren't too happy about it and they are appealing, but they don't have a legal leg to stand on. It doesn't matter how "traditional" a practice is or how many people approve of it: government has no authority over religious matters and has no business promoting one religion over all others like that.