The Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska comments on the case of Christian Hacking and answers the question over whether he was right to pray in public.
“And this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.”
In August of this year, 29-year-old Christian Hacking was arrested for publicly praying in front of a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing in violation of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). The PSPO had been issued by the local council against certain forms of protest within 100 meters of the clinic. His arrest has sparked much debate about whether it was spiritually or morally appropriate for Christian to be praying in a place where it was unlawful for him to do so. After all, Scripture is replete with verses about obeying earthly authority. Titus 3:1, for example, implores believers to “be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…”
However simple the question may appear on the surface, the answer of whether Christian Hacking was wrong to disobey the law is far more nuanced than one might think. Let’s take the question from several perspectives:
The legal view
Granted, the Ealing PSPO is quite clear that praying is among the enumerated activities disallowed within 100 meters of the Marie Stopes clinic. From a legal perspective, however, that is not the end of the story.
Through the Human Rights Act 1998, the United Kingdom has transposed articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights into our domestic law. Article 9 protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion; including the right to pray publicly and to otherwise manifest your religion. Article 10 protects public protest and freedom of expression. While both rights are subject to certain limitations, they are nonetheless considered fundamental legal rights. Any interference with the right to publicly pray, according to the settled case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, must be necessary in a democratic society and proportionately tailored to serving a legitimate aim. Any such restriction must be reviewed by the court with the strictest level of scrutiny. Opposition to abortion is also a protected right under the Convention, as is the right to manifest that belief.
Precisely stated, the question of whether Christian violated the law is not black and white and includes a clash between laws; one prohibiting prayer in front of an abortion clinic and one prescribing prayer and opposition to abortion as protected legal rights. The question of whether the PSPO is violative of the European Convention is still being worked out before the courts and could ultimately end up before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). My opinion, as a long-time veteran of ECHR litigation, is that the European Court may very well find that the PSPO disproportionately limits the rights of those wishing to protest abortion and is therefore in breach of Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention.
Let’s now turn to the greater moral question of Christian’s actions.
Christians who are uncomfortable with Christian Hacking publicly praying in violation of the Ealing PSPO can take heart in the fact that Christian was merely partaking in an activity which our forebearers did often, at great risk to their own lives, when Christianity was still illegal in the Roman Empire. We celebrate our early Christian martyrs precisely because their faith and love of God was greater than their fear of any unjust law. Those Christians also had a wealth of precedent, including Daniel’s refusal to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue in Daniel 3. In fact, had the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puahnot not disobeyed a direct order by Pharaoh to kill all of the male born Hebrew children being born at the time, Moses would have been a casualty of infanticide and salvation history would look a whole lot different than it does today.
Even in secular terms, we must ask what would the world look like right now without the likes of Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer? History proves that hearts and minds were changed en masse because of exemplary acts civil disobedience. Now of course, not all acts of civil obedience are equal, and some are in fact unhelpful.
Praying for the unborn child
It is therefore important to evaluate what is at stake. Here is the reality. From the moment of conception, the human person has all of the genetic information necessary for his or her development. That unborn child is a growing human person. Being in the womb is as much a part of human life as childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Abortion ends human life. In fact, since the Abortion Act 1967 came into effect, it has ended more than 9 million lives. The Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing is responsible for thousands of abortions a year.
Prayer is the key that opens the door of darkness to the light. Given the reality of what is happening in Ealing, I would suggest that not only is prayer appropriate in front of abortion clinics, it is necessary!
There is one very damning thing to be said about those who demand us to follow even the most unjust laws. If we were to believe such to be true, then the Nuremburg laws emboldening anti-Semitism and leading to the creation of Nazi death camps were to be followed, and the Nuremburg trials which punished concentration camp guards who simply “followed the law” would be wrong.
I tip my hat to Christian Hacking. When confronted with modern Britain’s gravest sin, he did what we all should do: he prayed boldly. While some might disagree with him doing so in breach of a PSPO, I would hope that you would nonetheless appreciate the faith with which he acted. May his actions quicken the end of the culture of death in the United Kingdom.
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