WOKING chief executive Ray Morgan says the National Secular Society need to re-focus their efforts after the organisation started legal procedures against the council.
The equality pressure group are taking the council to court over a policy that allows church-goers to park for free in the town centre on their primary day of faith.
The concession was voted in by the council in July 2012 after they took legal advice to make sure they were not infringing on discrimination law.
An Equality Impact Assessment was commissioned by the council after an initial complaint by the NSS, who estimate the free ticket to cost taxpayers £50,000 per year.
They have now moved to take further action after receiving complaints from residents.
But Mr Morgan defended the council’s decision and said the policy was serving a greater purpose, and that NSS efforts would be best placed away from dragging the council to court.
He explained: “In July 2012, the council adopted a formal policy in respect of parking charges for faith communities. It allows the council to provide free parking in its off-street car parks to groups on their primary day of worship.
“The policy applies to all faiths, not just church-goers, as the council takes the view that such communities play an important role, both in society in general and Woking in particular. Before the council adopted the policy, legal advice indicated that while it could amount to indirect discrimination, it could also be justified on the basis that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
“Considerable voluntary work is organised by faith communities, often for the benefit of the more disadvantaged members of our society. As well as faith groups, we offer free or reduced car parking facilities to other teams who provide valuable services to our community.
“Instead of pursuing this legal challenge, perhaps the National Secular Society could consider what it could do to work with disadvantaged communities in Woking and take advantage of our free car parking arrangements.”
Executive director of the NSS Keith Porteous Wood, in whose name the action has been brought, drove to Woking on Sunday, April 14 and had to pay £3 to park his car in Heathside Crescent car park. Mr Wood does not hold any religious beliefs and said: “We have launched this challenge to preferential treatment of worshippers because it is neither legitimate nor lawful for local government to subsidise the activities of any particular religion and belief group. The equal treatment of all, regardless of belief or non-belief, is a key secular principle.
“It would be fairer if the council either charged worshippers for parking, as they do everyone else, or provided free parking for all.”