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How can praying in public be a crime?


CHRISTIAN Hacking may be the first person in modern times to be arrested and prosecuted for praying in a public place in the UK. Hacking, a wheelchair user, was arrested on 8 August 2019 for praying outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing.

Police were called when clinic staff reported that two men were praying on the green outside. Hacking continued to pray for mercy for the clinic and others involved. He refused to stop praying so he was forcibly taken to a police van and then spent eight hours in a cell.


There is currently a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) put in place by Ealing Council which prohibits a range of activities from taking place within 100m of the clinic. The prohibited activities include prayer, making it a potentially criminal offence in the UK.

PSPOs are intended to tackle anti-social behaviour or harassment. For example, another PSPO by Ealing Council prohibits loitering in groups which are engaging in anti-social behaviour, urinating, littering, using illegal drugs, spitting and obstructing access to businesses. 

Prayer should never be illegal

How can it be that praying is now a criminal offence in some places in the UK? Praying is not harassment. Praying is not anti-social behaviour. Praying is something that no government should ever make a crime.

We know what happened to the government officials and advisers who persuaded King Darius to outlaw prayer (Daniel 6:24). Daniel wilfully disobeyed the law prohibiting prayer, and God spared him from the lions. God did not, however, spare the officials who suggested that prayer should be prohibited. We learn from this story that prayer should not be prohibited, and that if it is, Christians should not be afraid to disobey the law. Freedom to pray should be protected in law rather than prohibited.

A higher authority

There is a higher authority than the law of the land – it is the law of God. Christians should be model citizens in obeying the law of the land unless and until the law prohibits something that God commands. Peter and John were charged not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. They replied: ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:19-20) The officials wanted to prohibit something that God commands. Preaching in the name of Jesus should never be outlawed either, and Christians should continue to preach and teach in the name of Jesus no matter what the law says. Freedom to preach the gospel should also be protected in law, rather than prohibited.

Abortion should be protested against

In any case, peaceful and civil protests should be allowed in a free society. Hacking was engaging in peaceful prayer, objecting to the slaughter of the innocents taking place in the abortion clinic. The latest statistics show that more than 200,000 abortions were carried out in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to more than 750 slaughters every single working day of the year. Approaching nine million innocent lives have been lost since the passing of the Abortion Act in 1967. It is tantamount to genocide.

Who will protest against the slaughter of the innocents? Is it really morally OK to walk by and do nothing or say nothing? The triumph of evil is enabled by the lack of protest.

No regrets

Hacking said: ‘I have no regrets about praying outside the clinic. Abortion is spiritual. It is a modern form of child sacrifice to the idols of convenience, sexual liberty, and despair. This is therefore primarily a spiritual battle. We need more prayer, not less if we are going see change – lives saved, and mothers helped. Prayer is an act of love towards both the babies and the mothers, and even for the abortion facilitators for whom we cry out for mercy. The law should not be preventing me from doing this but should protect such activity when conducted in a peaceful and loving manner.’

Will you pray for mercy and speak out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves?

This article first appeared in Christian Concern on November 1, 2019, and is republished by kind permission. 

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Tim Dieppe
Tim Dieppe
Tim Dieppe is Head of Public Policy at Christian Concern.

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