Let us be clear. Britain remains a Christian nation, as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has insisted – or just as much of a Christian nation as it was before Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Bideford Town Council had no legal powers to hold prayers during council meetings.
Nor has there been any curtailing of “the right to worship … a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty,” as Pickles suggested. There is not, for example, any ban on Church of England clerics coming within five miles of London; no likelihood of vicars being burned at the stake; no exclusion of members of the Church of England from public office – all milestones (applied by the English state to Catholics and Dissenters) along the road towards establishing the “hard fought British liberty” of worshipping according to the rites of the Anglican state religion (in England, of course, not elsewhere in these islands, where there was a certain amount of resistance to having such British liberty imposed).
But enough of the rant. What actually has Mr Justice Ouseley done if he has not disestablished the Church of England and its communicants? What he has done is look at the powers of local authorities under the Local Government Act 1972 and found that they do not include the power to call elected representatives to a brief act of Christian worship. Such calls are, in the old terminology, ultra vires of the legislatively sanctioned powers of the Town Council.