Cllr John Barry proposes silent reflection instead of prayers at council meetings

Monday November 6 2017

A Green Party councillor has proposed that religious prayers at council meetings should be replaced with a moment of silent reflection.

Cllr John Barry who has proposed this Notice of Motion for Arts and North Down Council has said:

“The Green Party recognises the importance that religion plays for many people. However, religious prayers at the start of council meetings do not promote inclusivity and aren’t conducive to a welcoming atmosphere for people of no faith or people who are not of a Christian faith.

“We propose instead a moment of silent reflection as an alternative to the current practice.  This moment of reflection would allow for the inclusion of any religious, spiritual or ethical dimension for each person at the start of the meeting.  There needs to be a separation of council business and any particular religion – we need a separation of Church and State.

“For example, the Scottish Parliament begins each week with a “Time for Reflection”, where invited speakers, both religious and irreligious, lead the parliament in a four-minute reflection. And within the Green Party we have a practice of having a moment’s silence before meetings to enable people to reflect on the meeting and offer a chance for people to shift themselves psychologically and emotionally from what they were doing before and focus on the meeting ahead. This is something we could do at our council meetings.”

Tanya Jones is deputy Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland and a practising Christian. Tanya added her thoughts on the matter:

“As a Christian, I am fully in support of this motion. My faith inspires and impels me to work for a just and nonviolent society, to reach out to the excluded and to care for creation, and to do so in partnership with those of other faiths and of none. We have much in common, but language, history and our differing understandings of our sacred texts place unnecessary barriers among us. A voluntary time of shared silence, in which we each seek the wellsprings of our own commitment, is a better reflection of our diverse community, a better way to make real connection with one another and a better basis for wise decision-making.”

The motion is as follows:

‘That this Council, while recognising the importance that religion plays for many people, believes that religious prayers should not form part of the official agenda of a council meeting. Such expressions of one particular religion are not inclusive of those of different religions and beliefs, are not necessary for the conduct of council business, and are unrepresentative of the Ards and North Down Borough and its diverse communities. A moment of silent reflection at the start of council meetings could instead be considered as a more appropriate way to allow for the inclusion of any religious, spiritual, or ethical dimension.’

The council will vote on this motion on the 14th November. If the motion passes the council will then adopt a new reflective silence which will sit outside the formal order of business.


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