Cllr John Barry’s prayer motion ‘was not intended to be anti-Christian’

Wednesday November 15 2017

A proposal to replace council prayers with a moment’s silent reflection was not intended to be anti-Christian, according to Green Party councillor John Barry.

The motion was defeated 10-3 at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Corporate Committee meeting of Ards and North Down Borough Council.

The councillor had urged colleagues to support his motion, which called for prayers at the monthly full Council meetings to be replaced with a moment’s silent reflection, outside of the official council agenda.

“If your faith is strong you do not need the support of the state,” Councillor Barry said.

The councillor said he was simply asking for fairness and inclusiveness and was disappointed at the outcome.

“Removing prayers from the official agenda of our monthly meetings and replacing it with a moment’s silent reflection outside the agenda is a threat to no-one,” he said.

“But perhaps for some equality is experienced as a loss, a taken-for-granted traditional experience of privilege that is now threatened.

“But as I said in the debate when I asked those of a faith belief to ask themselves: is my Christian faith dependent upon the state and the inclusion of my religious views via state power?  Is my faith not strong enough to thrive, live and sing in a moment’s silent reflection?

“This Notice of Motion was motivated by a desire that we should separate faith and state not faith and politics.  That is, for Christianity to be present in society and politics in a way that it is an invitation to embrace its vision of the world, as opposed to an involuntary imposition.”

Councillor Barry stressed that the motion was neither anti-Christian nor an attempt to suggest that religious beliefs be banned from politics and the public sphere.

“This was not an attempt to deny councillors with a deep faith from expressing their views and seeking to convince me or others of their arguments and positions, or indeed convert me,” he said.

“Indeed I welcome such ethically informed and sincerely held views, since they can resonate with my and other equally deeply held ethical beliefs.

“But no one ethical stance can dominate or be given some pre-eminent position over others.

“I fully recognise and appreciate the other-regarding and often selflessness that the best of Christianity offers.   None of this is threatened by what I and Councillors Woods and Robinson proposed.

“While the debate was respectful for the most part, there were no strong arguments made for the continuation of the current practice.  What we had were that ‘majority rules’ and the fact that it was ‘traditional practice’ as the reasons.

“There was also an attempt to deflect completely from the issue by personalising the debate, that is, to deflect from addressing the issue and questioning the motivations of myself and the political values of Green Party.

“I was accused of hypocrisy while my party was associated with authoritarian communism, and a shameful attempt made to slur myself and my party as ‘guilty by association’ and complicit in the brutal authoritarianism and suppression of religion in Stalinist Russia.  I suppose this is to be expected of those bereft of strong arguments.

“The motivation behind the notice of motion was secularism and democracy not atheism and anti-Christianity, despite the disgraceful attempts by some members in the debate to suggest the opposite.

Cllr Barry said: “While I am of course disappointed that this reasonable and modest step towards a more inclusive Full Council meeting was rejected, I am even more disappointed that it was force of numbers not reasonable defences of the current practice that won the day.  Might does not equal right.”



Linda Stewart



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