A HIGH Court ruling effectively banning prayers from official council proceedings has been labelled “ludicrous”.

Four North Yorkshire authorities are among those having to rethink their agendas as a result of the legal decision.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers were unlawful after an action brought against Bideford Town Council, in Devon, by the National Secular Society (NSS) after a complaint from an atheist councillor.

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But the judge said prayers could be said as long as council members were not formally summoned to attend.

Bideford is expected to appeal against the decision but in the meantime a number of other authorities are also affected – including Richmond Town Council, Richmondshire and Ryedale district councils and North Yorkshire County Council.

It is likely they will circumvent the ruling by holding prayers before official proceedings and not placing them on the formal agenda.

But Richmond town councillor Stuart Parsons said: “I think it’s a ludicrous ruling with far-reaching implications.

“If the Queen is the head of state and the state religion it is questioning that role. And what about bishops in the House of Lords?”

Richmondshire leader Coun John Blackie said his authority would be consulting with its legal officers and members would also be asked for their thoughts.

He added that two years ago Richmondshire was asked to consider removing prayers from the opening item of agendas but members rejected the idea “resolutely.”

Darlington Borough Council holds prayers at full council meetings at the discretion of the serving mayor, but not as an agenda item.

Council leader Bill Dixon said yesterday: “As far as I’m concerned nothing will change. I would have thought that members would have better things to do in these times of making huge budget cuts than worry about whether prayers are being said.”

Senior members of the county council are expected to discuss the issue informally today.

The authority’s Tory leader, Councillor John Weighell, said yesterday: “I don’t like minority groups attacking traditions.

I personally would look to keeping this tradition going.”

Ryedale District Council faced a challenge to its prayers last summer but members voted to retain the tradition. It is now also considering its next steps.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, said: “This judgment is an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society, one that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it.”