Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 8, 2023 / 09:40 am (CNA).
A senior British official has warned police officers in the country that the mere act of silently praying — a seemingly direct reference to recent pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics — is “not unlawful,” a declaration that comes amid an ongoing and controversial debate about that practice in the United Kingdom.
U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a letter to the chief constables of England and Wales this month that it was “worth remembering” that “silent prayer, in itself, is not unlawful.”
The letter, the secretary said, was an effort to remind police officers of “the importance of remaining impartial” while carrying out law enforcement duties.
In the document, she also cautioned against recent police behaviors such as “taking the knee” during Black Lives Matter protests, embracing “highly contested ideologies” such as gender extremism and critical race theory, and “failing to take action” of threats of violence made by transgender activists against women.
The note about “silent prayer” appears to be a reference to what has become a protracted and politicized debate over pro-life activism carried out at abortion clinics throughout England.
Among the recent incidents involving praying Britons, last year a pro-life activist was arrested by police in Birmingham, West Midlands, after police observed her “standing still and praying silently outside an abortion facility.”
In February a British priest was arrested — also in Birmingham — for praying for free speech outside of a clinic after hours.
Video captured in January of this year, meanwhile, showed a similar incident in which a British man faced a fine for praying silently outside of an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, Dorset.
The British Parliament, meanwhile, in March passed legislation establishing 500-foot “buffer zones” around abortion clinics within which protesters cannot undertake any activity to influence “any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services,” including silent prayer.
In her letter affirming the basic lawfulness of silent prayer, Braverman said she was “concerned that confidence in policing has been affected by perceptions that the police have in recent years been seen, on occasion, to be taking a political stance.”
The home secretary expressed hope that police officers in England could adhere to “a more careful approach” of “community engagement,” one that avoids “the trap of partisanship.”
“I know that when we all pull in the same direction, we can achieve the best outcomes for the public,” she wrote.
Following the letter, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce — the woman arrested last year in Birmingham over her silent prayer — told the Alliance Defending Freedom that she was “delighted to see the home secretary clarify to police that it is not a crime to pray inside your own mind.”
“This is a basic tenet of a free democracy,” Vaughan-Spruce noted, though she acknowledged that she has “been arrested twice for doing no more than that.”
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