Call to drop Christian prayers before UK parliament sessions
A leading campaign group has called on the new speaker of the House of Commons to stop the practice of reciting Christian prayers before the opening of sessions in both houses of the British parliament to promote equality.
The Church of England has long had a significant influence on British politics. Several bishops are entitled to sit in the House of Lords, including the archbishop of Canterbury, whose words on issues of the day have considerable traction in public discourse.
The National Secular Society (NSS) has written to speaker Lindsay Hoyle, saying that ending parliamentary prayers would “represent a positive step forward for modernity, equality and freedom of conscience”, urging him to review the practice in the procedure committee.
The NSS said Christian prayers were “unfit for a modern legislature and at odds with an egalitarian society which respects the important principle of freedom of religion or belief”.
It also highlighted a 2019 motion backed by MPs from across the political spectrum that called for an end to parliamentary prayers.
NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “Opening parliamentary sessions with Christian prayers is an exclusionary and divisive practice. Ending it would provide a statement that anyone is welcome in parliament, regardless of their religious beliefs or background, and that parliamentary procedures respect freedom of conscience”.
“We urge the new speaker to bring whatever influence he can to bear to ensure parliament is open and welcoming to people of all religious beliefs and none.”
The 2019 motion said religious worship should play no part in the formal business of the House of Commons and parliamentary meetings should be conducted “in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, irrespective of their personal beliefs”. It added that parliamentary prayers were “not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion”.