English grandmother arrested for praying near abortion clinic wins religious freedom challenge

Rose Lalor Rose Lalor with her rosary in Liverpool, England. | ADF International

A 76-year-old English grandmother who was fined for praying near to an abortion clinic has successfully overturned her financial penalty, but human rights campaigners still fear that the initial fine represents “a worrying trend in law enforcement” regarding certain beliefs.

Rosa Lalor, from Liverpool, England, was issued the fine during the country’s lockdown in February 2021 after a policeman questioned why she was outdoors. She replied that she was “walking and praying.”

The officer involved said that this was not “a reasonable excuse,” that she was in fact protesting, and so she was then arrested, detained, and fined.

As a result of a legal challenge, supported by the organization ADF International, Merseyside Police have now conceded that Lalor should not have been detained due to the fact she was firmly within her rights to silently pray while out walking and that her actions were reasonable and acceptable under COVID-19 regulations.

In a statement released July 18, Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, which supported Lalor’s case, said that the controversial incident marked a worrying trend where individuals faced penalties for holding controversial beliefs.

He said: “We’re thrilled to celebrate a victory for Rosa today, but it is deeply regrettable that this law-abiding woman was subjected to distressing, drawn-out criminal proceedings in the first place, no doubt due to her pro-life stance. This follows a worrying trend in law enforcement where individuals are routinely arrested simply because their views are considered to be controversial or offensive.”

Igunnubole went on to call for “the upskilling of police officers across the country to ensure that they have a proper grasp of the right to freedom of expression and religion as it relates to public order.”

The remarks are pertinent to an incident last February when Merseyside Police were forced to apologize after erroneously claiming "being offensive is an offense" as part of a billboard campaign to encourage people to report hate crime. The force later clarified that while hate crime is an offense, "being offensive is not in itself an offense."

In a statement delivered July 18, Lalor said: “I’m delighted that the prosecution has finally dropped this charge after a long and exhausting battle for justice. I took this challenge forward with support from ADF UK to show that we do all have a fundamental right to pray — not least pray as I did, in the privacy of my own mind.”

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