CAIRO - A British High Court ruling banning prayers before local council meetings has triggered a storm of criticism from Muslim and Catholic leaders alike.I was the first Muslim elected to the council. I was a little nervous about the prayer beforehand but when I observed how they prayed I was very surprised and felt very comfortable, Kaysar Hussain, 33, a Liberal Democrat member of Yeovil Town Council, told the local daily This Is Somerset on Monday, February 13.
They were good words about local people so I was very happy.
The High Court outlawed formal acts of prayers before council meetings last week.
The case was brought by the National Secular Society against Bideford Town Council in Devon after atheist ex-councillor Clive Bone said he was "embarrassed and disadvantaged" when prayers were said during meetings.
The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a council is not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue, Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, ruled.
The unexpected ruling angered Muslim councillor Hussain.
The town clerk explained to me that anyone who wants to could go outside when the prayer was being said and come in afterwards but I like to see it going on, he said.
What will happen next? Will someone say we should not sing the National Anthem because it says God save the Queen?'
The prayer ritual dates back in Bideford to the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the council has recently voted twice to retain it.
Britain has a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.5 million Muslims, mainly of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origin.
Over the past few years, the numbers of non-believers have been noticeably increasing in Europe and the US.
A 2005 survey published in Encyclopedia Britannica put non-believers at about 11.9 percent of the world's population.
An official European Union survey recently said that 18 percent of the bloc's population do not believe in God.
The court verdict sparked fury from Christian leaders, who denounced the ruling as illiberal and intolerant.
It's been part of our rights, our ancestors have fought long and hard for the ability to have free religious assembly, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said.
This still remains a Christian country. We have an established Church of which the Queen's the head, these kind of ceremonies have been taking place for a long time.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said it was likely the ruling would be overridden.
But the court ruling was welcomed by the National Secular Society as an important victory.
The high court ruling was "an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it," Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said.
"There is no longer a respectable argument that Britain is a solely Christian nation, or even a religious one.
"An increasing proportion of people are not practicing any religion, and minority faiths are growing in number and influence, he added.
This is not the first problem incited by atheists in Britain recently.
Last month, the University College London's Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society published a cartoon depicting Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon them).
The atheist society used the title page from a comic book, Jesus and Mo, by a pseudonymous British cartoonist called Mohammed Jones, to advertise a Facebook social event.