UK 'Thought Police' Arrest Pro-Life Advocate for Silently Praying Near Abortion Clinic
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A charity volunteer in the United Kingdom was arrested after she told the police she "might" be praying silently when questioned as to why she was standing on a public street near an abortion facility. And she's not the first person to be arrested in the UK in recent months for praying in their head.
The Alliance Defending Freedom UK, a faith-based legal advocacy organization, reports police officers approached Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the director of UK March for Life, who was standing near the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, an area of Birmingham, England.
Vaughan-Spruce was carrying no sign and remained completely silent until approached by the officers. The police had received complaints from an onlooker who suspected that Vaughan-Spruce was praying silently in her mind in an area described by the ADF UK as a "censorship zone."
Police in the UK arrest a woman for silently praying:— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) December 22, 2022
"Are you praying?"
"I might be praying in my head." pic.twitter.com/7Q8UnKmfa1
The City of Birmingham maintains a buffer zone around all abortion clinics that make it illegal for anyone to be "engaging in any act of approval or disapproval" in relation to abortion, including through "verbal or written means, prayer or counseling…"
"It's abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police, and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind," Vaughan-Spruce said. "Censorship zones purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal. Nobody should ever be subject to harassment."
"But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful – I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind. Nobody should be criminalized for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK," she added.
The ADF UK is representing Vaughan-Spruce in her case.
"Isabel's experience should be deeply concerning to all those who believe that our hard-fought fundamental rights are worth protecting. It is truly astonishing that the law has granted local authorities such wide and unaccountable discretion, that now even thoughts deemed 'wrong' can lead to a humiliating arrest and a criminal charge," said ADF UK Legal Counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole.
"A mature democracy should be able to differentiate between criminal conduct and the peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected rights. Isabel, a woman of good character, and who has tirelessly served her community by providing charitable assistance to vulnerable women and children, has been treated no better than a violent criminal," he continued.
"The recent increase in buffer zone legislation and orders is a watershed moment in our country. We must ask ourselves whether we are a genuinely democratic country committed to protecting the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of speech. We are at serious risk of mindlessly sleepwalking into a society that accepts, normalizes, and even promotes the 'tyranny of the majority'," Igunnubole noted.
As part of her bail, the police also imposed restrictions on Vaughan-Spruce from engaging in public prayer beyond the buffer zone around abortion clinics.
UK Supreme Court Rules Northern Ireland's Censorship Zones Legal
Buffer zones around abortion clinics have already been instituted by five cities in the U.K., and earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled Northern Ireland's government can create censorship zones banning pro-life demonstrations, including prayers, within a 328-foot perimeter outside of any abortion facility across the region.
As CBN News reported on Dec. 9, as a result of the high court's ruling, holding a sign, distributing leaflets, offering to help a woman, or simply praying silently near an abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will now be a crime. Violators could receive a fine of up to £2500. ($3,060 in U.S. dollars)
The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life condemned the high court's ruling as "a travesty of justice," but at the same time, promised to redouble its efforts in public awareness campaigns to expose the horrific reality of what abortion does to an innocent baby in the womb.
"The judges in the Supreme Court ruled this is appropriate and justifiable, even though it breaches rights of freedom of speech and assembly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights," the group said.
Precious Life's legal team will be appealing the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights.
Meanwhile, in England, pro-life advocates are not waiting to fight back against censorship zones.
As CBN News reported on Dec. 6, a U.K. pro-life volunteer last month took legal action against a city ordinance that creates similar censorship zones around abortion clinics, making it illegal for pro-life activists to speak, pray, or assist women looking for alternative options.
Livia Tossici-Bolt, a former clinical scientist and leader of 40 Days for Life Bournemouth, is pursuing a statutory review of the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which was passed in October by the Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole city councils in England.
She filed a complaint through the ADF UK against the authorities in November for breaching her freedom to pray on a public street.
Tossici-Bolt believes the council did not have the power to make the PSPO because officials wrongly sought to prohibit peaceful and lawful behavior.
"There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit any dissenting viewpoint," Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said in a statement.
The British Parliament is considering legislation to create censorship zones in England and Wales. Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, currently under parliamentary debate, would prohibit pro-life volunteers from "influencing", "advising", "persuading", "informing", "occupying space" or even "expressing opinion" within the vicinity of an abortion clinic.
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