By - - BBC NEWS
Added: Sat, 18 Feb 2012 01:34:00 UTC
The government is activating a power it says will allow councils in England to hold prayers at meetings.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles says he is "effectively reversing" the High Court's "illiberal ruling" that a Devon council's prayers were unlawful.
He says part of the Localism Act that aims to give councils greater powers and freedom will be brought in early.
The National Secular Society opposes prayers in "a secular environment concerned with civic business".
Earlier this month, in response to legal action brought by the National Secular Society, the High Court ruled that Bideford Town Council had acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said at meetings.
Mr Justice Ouseley said that, under the Local Government Act 1972, the council had no powers to hold prayers as part of a formal meeting.
The controversial judgement has been regarded by many as an example of the marginalisation of Christianity, as well as a test case that could affect local councils across the country. Bideford Town Council has said it would appeal against the ruling.
'Wake-up call' The government argues that it was not intention or will of Parliament for this act from 40 years ago to be used to prohibit prayers.
"The High Court judgement has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council," said Mr Pickles.
"By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness."
He added that the Bideford council case should be "a wake-up call".
"For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned."
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