This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Prayer sets a tone for debate
The subject of prayer has been at the centre of public debate in recent times.
Mr Mike Simpson joins in by declaring that prayer has no place prior to a meeting, debate or other such forums. He even proposes that the Leicester city councillors who did, and still do, engage in this very human act of sharing are not fit for office and should step down. I'll leave the reader to consider the ridiculous implications of his radical, secular view.
It is correct to say that the absence of prayer prior to a meeting may not change the order of who sits where, the agenda items or outcomes. What a short prayer does do, however, is set the tone at the very start by everyone silently declaring that no matter how heated the debate or polarising the views, all will treat others with respect. Mr Simpson may say this is unnecessary as it is taken for granted due respect will be given, not in my extensive experience of meetings Mr Simpson. When people are left to set their own level of respect standards, too many seem to fall well short of a reasonable standard.
A prayer at the start of a gathering for whatever reason, if conducted properly, can provide a benchmark of respect that has a tangible effect. As an example, consider the House of Commons. In debates, MPs consistently refer to each other as "Honourable friend''. This was introduced many, many years ago to remind MPs that during debate, a level of decorum and respect is expected. For the rest of us, a short prayer often suffices.
Whilst I have no doubt most secularists strive to be decent people, I suspect the active secularists would rejoice if prayers were generally dispensed with outside of religious services.
I say the world would be a much poorer place for it. I would implore all who follow a faith to firmly resist this attempt by secularists to deprive our children of the personal and collective benefits of sharing daily communal prayer as they grow. We need to reverse this secular fashion of individualism, disrespect and irresponsibility. Abandoning daily communal prayer is precisely what we do not need to do.
Stephen A Warden, Leicester