It was introduced as a way to promote harmony, respect and be inclusive of all religions, but councillors have claimed they were “concerned and baffled” when Islamic prayers were sung before a town hall meeting.
All elected members on Brighton and Hove City Council are invited to bow their heads before meetings of the full council. Usually prayers are led by a Church of England priest. For the first time, mayor Bill Randall has invited religious leaders from other faiths to lead the moment of reflection.
After an imam delivered a prayer in Arabic in the council chamber last week, independent councillor Christina Summers said she felt it was “exclusive”. Last night some questioned her commitment to diversity in the city, which according to most recent census figures has 6,095 Muslims.
Coun Summers, who was expelled from the Green group earlier this year after voting against supporting same-sex marriage, said: “To think it’s against diversity is nonsense. Prayers are not part of proceedings – councillors do not have to attend. As far as I’m aware there are no Muslim or Arabic-speaking councillors so I just wonder what the point was.”
Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett said: “I believe there should be prayers that everyone can understand before a council meeting but I thought that was too much. Everybody seemed a bit overwhelmed by it.”
Coun Randall said: “I’m surprised and disappointed at the negative responses of Coun Summers and other councillors. Brighton and Hove is a diverse city and one of my aims as mayor is to celebrate this diversity while bringing the city’s faiths closer together.”
Labour councillor Warren Morgan said: “When Coun Summers voted against my motion supporting equal marriage, I said that although we totally disagreed with her views, we should respect her right to hold them as they were based on her faith. It is disappointing therefore that she is unwilling to accept or tolerate other faiths and beliefs, and it may be time to question whether she should remain a councillor in our diverse and inclusive city.”