There's a bit of fuss brewing over a high court ruling forbidding the saying of prayers prior to the start of meetings at Bideford town council. Whilst I understand that on a technical level the judge ruled correctly, it all seems a bit daft. On a personal level I'm not in the least offended if a person or a group wishes to pray in public. I just tune out. It's easy. Why then, have we seen this outcome, which may have wider ramifications?
First, the facts. Nobody is prohibiting private prayer. The ruling forbids public prayer in one parish in Devon. Absurdly, the council had already voted democratically to allow the utterance of prayer, so I just don't understand why it could not have been left at that?
Now don't misunderstand me, I'm no fan of religious belief, but people's freedom of expression has to cut both ways. If you want to pray into thin air in the belief that there's somebody on the other end then crack on. I don't care. Have a ball, fella. My objections only begin when your beliefs begin to impinge upon mine. I don't see why there has to be a problem with people of faith and those without living together; we just need a mutual tolerance. Incidentally, this doesn't mean we cannot be critical. In fact I enjoy giving the teachings of all the major religions a good hand bagging because I suspect them to be based on central falsehoods. So yes, I'm going to be critical, and if you're inclined to attempt to evangelise me then you can, rest assured, look forward to becoming my intellectual chew toy. And I don't drop my chew toy for anybody. But come on, people, we can disagree without getting all uppity, can't we? We can disagree without having to spend vast sums on court cases that appear to achieve nothing of any worth? People need to have freedom of belief to the same extent that that they need freedom from belief. To be sure we're going to get up each others noses on occasion, but surely we're big enough and ugly enough to manage?