Town councillors vote no to prayers before meetings
"Our country has a great Christian heritage, indeed our county has a great Christian heritage," said Billericay Town Council chairman, councillor John Buchanan.
He was speaking a week after town councillors voted against opening full council meetings with a prayer.
A prayer about what exactly?
"To ask God to help the councillors make their decisions and to make good the decisions for the people of the town," he explained.
The proposition was voted against by a majority of seven votes to three.
"I was a little disappointed, it is something that is part of our tradition," said Mr Buchanan, himself a Christian.
The council chairman cites the fact that sittings in the House of Commons and House of Lords open with prayers as evidence that this is nothing unusual.
Closer to home, the councils of Chelmsford and Southend also open meetings with a prayer.
The idea to do likewise in Billericay was tabled by councillor Susan McCaffery, who believes asking for God's guidance would only be beneficial in a week that saw many question the lack of morality in our society following the riots in the capital and in other English cities.
"When you see the stories about the stock market crash, when you get the riots, the killing, if you have not got God what have you got? I just felt it was so apt," said Ms McCaffery.
"I thought we have got a lot of churches in Billericay, a lot of people go to church so it's something I would have thought a lot of people would be happy about."
Under her motion, a local minister would lead the prayer.
"If you are contacting God in your deliberations you have His wisdom and guidance in the decisions that you make," she said.
One of the voices on the opposing side of the argument was councillor Pamela Went, who argued such a practice would be "inappropriate".
"The council meeting has nothing to do with religion. If people want to pray let them pray in their own time not in the time we are using for residents," she said.
"My view is that the Billericay town council is a secular organisation and we represent the people of Billericay who have a multitude of faiths or no faith.
"All the people of Billericay are invited to attend a council meeting. The idea of having a Christian prayer when you could be having people of different faiths or atheists there, including members of the town council themselves, I thought was inappropriate.
"I respect everybody who has a faith but I am against it being forced on the council or anybody who attends the meeting."
Councillor Edgar Guest also voted against the idea, but suggested those who wanted to pray could arrive at the meeting early to do so.
Mr Guest said: "This council has always been non-party political and secular. I respect people who have religious beliefs of different denominations.
"Introducing a prayer meeting within the council meeting could be divisive. They could do it before the council meeting. It would not offend anybody and it would satisfy people who feel a prayer meeting would be beneficial and it would not coerce others to attend a religious service they didn't want to attend."