Something to Say with Keith Newbery: War rages on over council prayers

Clive Bone looks like one of those men with too much money in his bank account and too much time on his hands.

He spent quite a lot of both taking Bideford Town Council to the High Court because, when he was a member there, they had the nerve to put prayers on the agenda at the start of every meeting.

Ex-councillor Bone is an atheist and managed to convince their lordships he felt ‘embarrassed and disadvantaged’ by this monthly ritual.

One look at his portly and pugnacious features should be enough to convince anyone (even a law lord) that here is a man entirely impervious to the disconcerted flush and singularly unlikely to be caught on the hop.

But he won his case, and his lasting achievement is to ensure that in town halls throughout the land the word ‘prayers’ will now be placed above the word ‘agenda’ on local authority documents, rather than below it.

They will not, therefore, form part of the official business, so guidance from above can continue to be sought by those who require it, while the unbelievers can begin a sudoku or discuss the location of their post-assembly pint.

Either way, it is not going to make much difference to anyone’s council tax bill.

Local councillors are there to fret about potholes, fuss about overgrown hedgerows and vie for their turn with the mayoral regalia.

Those wishing to make a moral point about anything from atheism to Third World hunger should be encouraged to parade their consciences in more meaningful and appropriate surroundings – like Westminster.

But atheists - led by the great god Dawkins – have become increasingly militant.

They are as evangelical as any believers in their attempts to make infidels of us all – and in doing so have ignored the contrary nature of the British people.

When someone seems intent upon forcing their beliefs upon us – be they political, religious or moral – we have a tendency to take the opposing view just for the hell of it.

And the more they seek to achieve their aims by adopting a hectoring, pedantic and sneering approach, the more likely we are to turn our face the other way.

Ex-councillor Bone may have won his silly little battle – but the war rages on.


On the subject of Professor Dawkins, I suspect everyone from believers to rampant nihilists will have smirked at his discomfort on Radio Four’s Today programme.

He was discussing the recent survey about Christians undertaken by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (what else?)

He kept mentioning the fact that two-thirds of respondents did not even know the first book of the New Testament – and dismissed them as ‘tick-box believers.’

Darwin is his hero, of course, and when asked if he could provide the full title of his seminal work, Origin of the Species, Dawkins muttered and spluttered before giving up and hissing: ‘Oh God!’

That was not thunder you heard. It was a big belly laugh from above.