A ROW has blown up over prayers held before council meetings in Ryedale.

Currently a vicar is brought in by the leader of the council, to lead a few minutes of prayer before the full council meeting starts.

Now Liberal Democrat councillors, Coun Tommy Woodward and Coun John Clark, have put forward a motion that prayers should be moved from the council chamber to take place prior to the meeting in a separate room.

Coun Woodward, an atheist, said: “I am also a liberal, so I don’t think the prayers should be stopped altogether, just stopped from being held in the council chamber, when all the councillors are present and held prior to the meeting in a separate room.

“I don’t see why those of us who aren’t religious should have to be there while they’re taking place. I could take it upon myself to walk out of the room, but that draws attention to me at every meeting.”

Conservative council leader, Coun Keith Knaggs, said he expected the motion would be turned down.

He said: “I am not a practising Christian. But I believe there is still a Christian ethos in this country and particularly in Ryedale. To start a council meeting with prayers and, for some of us, a moment’s quiet contemplation, helps give a sense of perspective to our work. No-one has to participate.”

Canon John Manchester, who was chaplain to many of the council’s chairmen, said: “Whether it is Parliament or local government, those elected people need to remember that they are also answerable to a higher authority.”

But Coun Woodward said: “The only people I’m answerable to are the people that elected me. He may feel he’s answerable to a higher authority, but I don’t.

“There are a few things that happen on this council because that’s the way it has always been done, including that if you don’t have a majority, the largest party takes the chairmanship of the overview and scrutiny committee, which is the way it should be. If they can get rid of other things, I can get rid of the prayers.”

Ryedale District Council will vote on whether to continue holding prayers before meetings on Monday.

York Press: The Press - Comment

Graceful solution

GRACE before dinner may be a tradition that for the most part has died out, but in Ryedale prayers before council meetings are still held.

An English anachronism, some might say, and indeed the practice has now been brought into question.

There will be those who welcome the news, others will view it with sadness; one more tradition could be lost in an increasingly bland society that seeks to avoid offence at any cost.

But we hope the council’s handling of the matter will also be quintessentially English.

Consideration for others has always been a virtue in this country and that should not be mistaken for political correctness.

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