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Humanists call on Parliament to replace prayers with inclusive time for reflection

An MP signs a prayer card in 2016. Photo copyright: UK Parliament.

Humanists UK has launched a new petition which asks the procedure committees of the Houses of Parliament to review the discriminatory and outdated ‘prayer card’ and parliamentary prayers procedures in Parliament, which give preference to Christian MPs and peers for seats and speaking opportunities in Parliament.

In the House of Commons, there are only 427 seats for 650 MPs, but MPs who attend daily morning prayers are able to put down a ‘prayer card’ that reserves their seat for the whole day. This means that non-Christian MPs who do not wish to attend Christian prayers often find it difficult to take part or to speak in that day’s business in the House – especially popular first debates of the day, like Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the House of Lords, which has 400 seats for over 800 peers, there are similar advantages for Christian peers as those who attend prayers can stay in their seats ahead of the start of the busy parliamentary day.


BACK REFORM! SIGN THE PETITION

Humanists UK believes the time is right to review how Parliament might improve its procedures to make itself more representative of the UK as a whole. It points to the latest reliable data on religion or belief from the British Social Attitudes Survey, which shows that 52% of British adults are non-religious. A mosaic of diverse religions make up the remaining 48%.

The petition recommends exploring in depth the approach taken by the Scottish Parliament, which has always held inclusive time for reflection rather than prayers. This sees people representing a variety of religions and humanists invited in to share a reflection in a way that is designed to best prepare all members for the debates to follow. The British Columbia parliament voted to adopt a similar system at the end of last year.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘Parliament is at the heart of UK democracy, but it sets a bad example to the rest of the country by actively discriminating against the views of non-religious MPs, religious minority MPs, and the constituents they represent. As many new MPs have remarked, it’s an antiquated way of doing things that is out of touch with today’s society, where over half the population is non-religious.

‘We think in 2020, the time is right for politicians to take a sanguine look at the issue and enact modest reforms of parliament’s procedures so that it can better reflect the diversity of views held in the country today.’

If you want to see Parliament reformed to be inclusive of the whole UK, please, sign the petition on the Humanists UK website today.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about our work on secularism (the view that the state should be neutral in regards to questions of religion or belief) and constitutional reform (including parliamentary procedure and Bishops in the House of Lords).

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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