THE National Secular Society has written to the mayor of Barry attacking her plan to introduce religious worship to Barry Town Council meetings.

Barry Mayor, Cllr Janice Charles told councillors at their meeting, on July 23, that prayers would be said in in the Barry Town Council chamber five minutes before the start of full council business on October 1.

But the London-based society has informed her of a High Court ruling, it obtained in 2012, still valid in Wales, which made clear that local authorities have no statutory power to summon councillors to prayers, which means they cannot form part of the official business of a meeting.

Society chief executive, Stephen Evans said her plan to hold prayers five minutes before the meeting starts within the council chamber was an “attempt to remain within the law.”

He urged her to ensure meetings were conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, regardless of their individual religious beliefs or lack of belief.

“Religious worship should play no part in the formal business of council meetings,” he said.

“It is also reasonable for attendees to expect the chamber to be available for a fair interval before the meeting where the chamber is available so they can meet their colleagues, take their seats and prepare.

“If prayers begin in the chamber five minutes before the meeting starts, any councillor who does not wish to pray will be unable to do this.”

He said BTC was a secular body representing a religiously diverse and largely non-religious local community so it was “unsurprising” her attempt to introduce Christian worship into council meetings had proved divisive.

“The simplest way to avoid this type of unnecessary division is for councillors who wish to pray collectively to meet privately away from the meeting, so as not to impose their personal religious beliefs and practices on other councillors who may not share those beliefs,” he said.

“That way, council meetings can be inclusive and neutral regarding religion, ensuring that nobody attending the meeting is made to feel excluded on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Plaid opposition leader and Baruc ward councillor Shirley Hodges said she agreed with the society’s view.

“Before the last council meeting I asked for legal clarification from the town clerk regarding prayers,” she said.

“We were told prayers could be said before meetings but we could not legally discuss prayers as part of the agenda, so we ended up with the mayor telling us she was holding prayers before the next full council meeting.

“Local government rules are very clear no single council can make a decision.

“It’s another law broken by the mayor.”

She added: “Time prior to our meeting is now reserved for police reports.

“What she has done has caused upset.

“Keep religion and politics separate.”

Cllr Charles and BTC leader, Cllr Bronwen Brooks had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.