A NON-religious organisation hit out yesterday after Newport council wrote to local government minister Carl Sargeant calling on him to overturn a ban on prayers as part of business at council meetings.

The Argus revealed on Monday that Newport council had written to Mr Sargeant calling on him to overturn the High Court ruling which imposed the ban, in the same way England’s local government secretary Eric Pickles did.

Raising his concerns, Cllr Allan Morris said: "It’s the one part of the meeting that we all agree on and we don’t argue. It sets a moral example to any youngsters who come to watch the meetings.”

That comment prompted anger from Secular Wales, a group which works for a separation of religion and the state.

A spokesman said: "This clearly implies that people who don't want prayers are unconcerned, or incapable, of setting a moral example. That is an outrageous slur on the vast numbers of people who do not subscribe to a religious view. This isn't a case of respecting tradition, but a case of wanting to impose their own religion on others.

"We have no objection to members of the council saying prayers before the meeting but support the court ruling that it should not be part of official business. Secular Wales fully support the principle of the freedom of individuals or groups to practise their religion but believe that religion should not be the business of civic affairs.

"We live in a multi-cultural society and should be treating people of all faiths and none equally. In a free and fair society there cannot be a civic faith."

Cllr Morris hit back, denying his comment made that inference and added he is, himself, "of no particular religion, but I respect the views of anybody that is, or indeed has no religion."

He said he agreed with many of Secular Wales' comments but added: "Prayers have been part of the political way of life for centuries. I can see no harm that they are doing, and I for one would like to see them continue."

The High Court ruled against Bideford Town Council, deciding local authorities do not have the legal power under the Local Government Act 1972 to hold prayers as part of their formal business.