April 12, 2012
The British government has fast-tracked a move to restore the rights of towns and cities to hold prayers as part of their official business, effectively overriding a High Court order to stop the practice, the Religion News Service reports. In February, the High Court ruled that it was illegal for town halls to continue with the centuries-old practice of conducting prayers at the start of official meetings, but Communities Secretary Eric Pickles spearheaded the introduction of a new "general power of competence of local authorities in England" to give new powers to local governments to resume prayers and sidestep the court ruling. The parliamentary order took effect immediately when Pickles signed it on April 6. "Parliament has been clear that councils should have greater freedom from interference," the British government said, adding that the new powers enable councils to "innovate" and "hands them back the freedom to pray." Pickles said the measure "sends a strong signal that this government will protect the role of faith in public life."