What happens when a public official insists a government meeting start with a prayer? If it’s the U.S., it’ll likely be challenged in court (as with the ACLU-VT’s challenge to prayer at the yearly town meeting in Franklin). Americans enjoy constitutional safeguards that protect individual expression while prohibiting state endorsement. But imagine the same scenario in a country that has an official religion, yet few people are religious. Is prayer at the public meeting permissible?
That’s what Britain is struggling with right now. Members of a town council in the rural southwest town of Bideford decided to challenge a long-standing practice of starting council meetings with a prayer. They recently won a court ruling that said government couldn’t compel citizens to hear prayer; the town council praying had to stop. Heaven and hell have broken loose, as Britons see the decision as setting an important precedent in church-state relations.
Enter the country’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She wears the historic mantle of “defender of the faith” in her country, and is indeed the supreme governor of the Church of England (the Anglican church, whose American cousin is the Episcopal church). The queen has suggested that secular society has gone too far.
“The concept of our established church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly underappreciated,” the queen said, according to the Washington Post.
Others have joined what the Post calls “a national proxy fight over the question of whether Christianity should still hold a privileged place in a modern, diverse and now highly secular society.” The national education commissioner wants to send every school a King James Version of the Bible. Others, though, think the Conservative government is attempting to copy U.S Republican Party tactics and using religion as a political weapon.