On 13th March 2015 the House of Lords debated the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill, a Private Members’ Bill from Jake Berry MP, sponsored in the Lords by Lord Cormack.
The Bill, which has already completed its passage through the House of Commons, would “make provision about the inclusion at local authority meetings of observances that are, and about powers of local authorities in relation to events that to any extent are, religious or related to a religious or philosophical belief.”
The Bishop of Leicester, Rt Rev Tim Stevens, spoke in support of the Bill during a debate on a series of amendments to it, tabled by opponents. The Bill passed through Committee unamended.
What concerns me about the opening remarks from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, is the assumption that in a multireligious and secular society it is in the interests of all the religions to evacuate the public space of any religion. That is not my experience in Leicester at all, which is one of the most multireligious cities in this country. A few years ago, a Lord Mayor of Leicester decided, having the powers so to do, to discontinue prayers in the council chamber before meetings of the council and, at the end of his mayoral year, leaders of the other faith communities pressed hard that prayers should be reinstated in the chamber. It has been our experience continually that the argument for prayer in public comes from the leadership of the many faiths in Leicester. That has also been the case in the remembrance observances, which have grown during my time as bishop from about 1,000 people—in Victoria Park on Remembrance Day—to somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000, where Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Baha’is, and Buddhists stand and remember together in public those who have fallen in war.
The point was made in the opening remarks about the connections between the global and the local. Those are profound connections, particularly in our great cities. The solidarity of people standing together in respect for the divine is a very significant part of how we preserve cohesion in our society.