CNA Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 08:09 am (CNA).
Concerns about religious freedom in the UK are intensifying after local council officers confronted a woman on the south coast of England for praying quietly in a public space and asked her to move away.
Livia Tossici-Bolt was praying with a friend near a local abortion clinic in Bournemouth but had not breached the borders of the censorship zone around the clinic, which the local council had imposed.
Nevertheless, two ‘Community Safety Accredited Officers’ patrolling the buffer zone informed Livia that her actions could cause “intimidation and harassment” and asked her to move away. According to Tossici-Bolt, the officers also expressed concern that there was a local school nearby and that “the children may ask questions.”
In a statement released on November 24, ADF International formally announced their support for Tossici-Bolt and the launch of an official complaint to local authorities for breaching her right to pray on a public street.
The statement comes as parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.
Clause 9 of the Bill proposes to institute ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression.
Clause 9 faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on November 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed unease with the introduction of buffer zones.
According to a statement from ADF International, Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill prohibits not only “harassment” outside of abortion facilities but “informing,” “advising,” “influencing,” “persuading,” and even “expressing an opinion.”
During the debate on Tuesday, Baroness Claire Fox of Buckley said: “If we pass Clause 9, why will other institutions not demand buffer zones around their special case facilities? If we consider that in Clause 9 a buffer zone is defined very broadly as “150 meters from … any access point to any building or site that contains an abortion clinic”, does that not make protests of all sorts at hospitals potentially unlawful? What if you wanted to organise a vigil outside a hospital in which, for example, babies died due to negligence, such as in the maternity services scandal recently? What about a rally against the use of puberty blockers on teenagers? Would that be banned too?”
Commenting on her own experience, Tossici-Bolt said in a statement on November 24: “Everyone has the freedom to pray quietly in a public place. I would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment. We complied with the new rules instituted by the council and didn’t pray within the censorship zone. Yet nevertheless, these prayer-patrol officers tried to intimidate us out of exercising our freedom of thought and of expression – in the form of prayer -which has been a foundational part of our society for generations.”
ADF International recently championed the cause of a 76-year-old grandmother in Liverpool, UK, who successfully overturned a financial penalty for praying near an abortion clinic in February 2021.
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