Chris Lange, FISM News
Two pro-life advocates who were arrested for the alleged “thought crime” of praying silently in these zones were found not guilty on Thursday by a Birmingham court after a judge dismissed the charges.
The cases are part of a crackdown on praying, even silently, in the U.K. if it is done within newly established censorship zones – many of which surround abortion facilities in the nation.
The Federalist recently reported on the alarming uptick in Christian persecution by Britain’s government, citing three recent cases being defended by the Alliance Defending Freedom that reveal a stunning effort to criminalize even the private thoughts of believers.
FATHER SEAN GOUGH
Sean Gough, a Birmingham, England Catholic priest, was one of the defendants cleared of charges by a Magistrate on Thursday. His alleged crime? Silently praying on a public street outside an abortion clinic.
Gough was accused of “intimidating service users” for silently praying inside a censorship zone of a Birmingham abortion facility, though the clinic was closed at the time of the alleged violation. The court dropped the charges Thursday, according to a Life News report.
“I could never have imagined that as a priest, I would have to endure a legal battle simply for praying – and believing that both lives matter in a pregnancy,” Gough said ahead of the hearing.
“My Christian beliefs, prayers, and expressions of support for free speech are entirely peaceful and lawful,” he continued. “I have dedicated much of my ministry to supporting women impacted by abortion and did not believe I was breaking any laws by praying near the abortion facility, especially while it was closed.”
Incredibly, Father Gough was also charged for parking his car within the prayer-free buffer zone because it displayed an “unborn lives matter” bumper sticker.
After the hearing, Gough stated that he was “pleased with the decision,” adding, “I stand by my beliefs – unborn lives do matter. But whatever your views are on abortion, we can all agree that a democratic country cannot be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes.”
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was also cleared of wrongdoing by a magistrate on Thursday.
FISM’s Lauren C. Moye reported earlier this month that the charity worker was arrested on Dec. 22 as she stood silently on a street near the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham.
Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest was disturbing on several levels. First, though she was standing quietly, three officers approached her and demanded to know if she was praying. Video footage of the arrest went viral on social media which showed that the officers proceeded to publicly search her person before handcuffing her and placing her under arrest. She was charged with four counts for violating the city’s Public Order Bill prohibiting pro-life “intimidation and harassment” near abortion clinics, which evidently includes peaceful and silent prayer.
The charges were subsequently dropped after the Alliance Defending Freedom United Kingdom (ADF UK) intervened on Vaughan-Spruce’s behalf. However, the Crown Prosecution Service still had the option to reinstate them, according to ADF UK attorneys.
Vaughan-Spruce pursued a full dismissal of the charges in court in order to establish a legal precedent that would protect the rights of other pro-life advocates to pray in public.
“It can’t be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street,” Vaughan-Spruce said. “So-called ‘buffer zone legislation’ will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court.”
Like Gough and Vaughan-Spruce, army veteran Adam Smith Connor was arrested for silently praying within a censorship zone surrounding an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England. His case is still pending.
With his back to the clinic, Smith-Connor silently prayed for his unborn son who was lost to abortion years ago, according to a statement from ADF UK, which is representing him in his quest to have the charges dropped.
Smith-Connor vehemently opposes any form of harassment of women, including women who seek abortions, which is why he said he prayed with his back toward the clinic, according to the statement.
“Regardless, local ‘community safety accredited officers’ deemed his thoughts problematic and fined him, and he is currently pursuing a legal challenge to defend the fundamental right to pray and think in accordance with his conscience,” ADF UK said.
The U.K. Parliament is considering a bill that would establish censorship zones across the nation around abortion facilities. If passed, anyone accused of doing any “influencing” inside of the established zones could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. Prayer would be included in the outlawed activities in the legislation.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, celebrated Thursday’s decisions but the fight against UK’s crackdown on silent prayer is far from over.
Today’s court case is of great cultural significance. This isn’t 1984, but 2023 – nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street. It’s a great moment to celebrate the vindication of Father Sean and Isabel. But our parliament is considering rolling out censorial legislation, which could lead to more situations where people’s thoughts are on trial. Let’s be clear – if Isabel or Fr Sean had been stood in the same spot thinking different thoughts, they likely wouldn’t have been arrested.