Crispin Blunt, the “Conservative” MP for Reigate, is seeking to abolish the 461-year-old tradition of Parliamentary Prayers.
Prayers have been said in private before the beginning of parliamentary business in the House of Commons and House of Lords since 1558, according to tradition, but Blunt and three allies have proposed scrapping them as “not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion” in an Early Day Motion.
Prayers in the Commons are typically led by the Speaker’s Chaplain, and centre on the following invocation:
Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.
Prayers in the House of Peers are led by one of the Bishops of the Church of England, who sit there in their capacity as Lords Spiritual.
Blunt’s attempt to abolish the ancient practice has been greeted with enthusiasm by National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans, who insisted that “Religious worship is for individuals who choose it — not for nations or legislative bodies… Ending this anachronism would be tangible example of the reform needed in the house and represent a positive step forwards for modernity, equality and freedom of conscience.”
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Fellow Tory MP and chairman of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group Sir Gary Streeter, however, has spoken out against Blunt’s attempt to expunge the parliamentary custom, arguing that “In a pluralistic society, freedom of belief is vital, yet this is not achieved by forcing all references to religion and God in public life to be pushed to one side.”
“There is no escaping the fact that the UK has a rich Christian heritage,” the MP explained in an article for Christian media outlet Premier.
“Walking around Parliament this influence is visible in the fabric of the buildings too. The floor of Central Lobby includes the first verse of Psalm 127 in Latin: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain,'” he added.
“The practice of holding prayers in Parliament dates back as far as 1558 and has been in place continuously since the reign of Charles II. For hundreds of years prayer has been a part of Parliamentary proceedings, and thus provides a link with the past and the way Parliament has evolved. We should not be too quick to abolish our traditions and heritage.”
Mr Streeter also pointed out that, “For those who do object, for whatever reason, there is no obligation to participate in the prayers.”
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