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Trial pushed to September 2024 for silent prayer

Adam’s case is evidence that if you hold opinions and convictions counter to the government or popular culture, you might be punished. Adam’s three day trial and legal argumentation will take place on 17-19 September 2024.

Adam Smith-Connor is an honest man and an Army veteran. He’s also a Christian being criminalised for silently praying alone outside in a “buffer zone”.

Cases like Adam’s can potentially cost upwards of £20,000 in legal fees. Will you chip in to help his defence?

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Who is Adam Smith-Connor?

Adam Smith-Connor is an ordinary man. He’s a husband, a father, and a practicing physiotherapist providing for his family. But his courage is extraordinary. The British Army veteran and Christian is unafraid to defend his faith or share his pro-life views publicly.

Before Adam’s conversion to Christianity, he had paid for the abortion of his first son, Jacob, whom he conceived with an ex-girlfriend – a decision that he deeply regrets. He’s found forgiveness but knows firsthand the trauma of abortion and the loss of life it causes. That’s why he prays silently in public – about his own son, other unborn babies and their mothers, and fathers.

Bournemouth police fined Adam for praying silently about his deceased son in an abortion facility “buffer zone” on 24 November 2022. He prayed with his back to the facility to avoid any impression of approaching or engaging any women entering or leaving the facility, and yet was still questioned by police.

According to the rules of the censorship zone in which he was praying, if Adam were thinking about any other issue – the economy, immigration, or healthcare, for example – he wouldn’t have been fined. It was the nature of his thoughts, his silent prayer, that got him in legal trouble.

The UK is witnessing a modern-day ‘thought crime’ trial.

In August, Bournemouth authorities criminally prosecuted Adam for praying silently in front of the facility. He pled not guilty, but now he is set to face a court hearing on 16 November. ADF UK is supporting his legal defense

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Is Silent Prayer Banned in the UK now?
Why is this happening?

Former UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in September that “silent prayer, within itself, is not unlawful” in a public letter to police forces nationwide and that “holding lawful opinions, even if those opinions may offend others, is not a criminal offence.” However, these prosecutions point to another reality.

So why does Adam still await a court appearance for the simple act of silent prayer?

Adam is being tried for allegedly breaking a local buffer zone imposed by local council authorities in Bournemouth. Within this buffer zone, everyone is prohibited from “expressing approval or disapproval of abortion” – even by praying, “crossing oneself”, or handing out leaflets about help services available to women facing a crisis pregnancy.

And sadly, we could be seeing far more of these incidents unfold, when a controversial Public Order Act comes into force in January. This new law will introduce buffer zones nationwide, banning any activity amounting to “influence” within 150m of an abortion facility. The wording of the law is so vague that it could target pro-life volunteers for praying in their heads – even if they don’t say a word.

Western democracies like the UK increasingly consider abortion a healthcare “right” for women requiring a high degree of protection from those wishing to offer or support a pregnant woman and her baby.

However, BBC’s findings that almost 1 in 5 women who obtain abortions in the UK are pressured into doing so highlight the importance of women having the choice to hear all the options available.

An amendment to permit silent prayer and consensual conversations within censorship zones failed to pass by a vote of 116 to 299.

Sadly, in Scotland, Humza Yousaf reiterated that the government would support Gillian MacKay MSP’s bill to introduce the same censorial “buffer zones” as seen in England and Wales. In October, a “buffer zones” bill was launched.

Some women want someone to turn to in their distress. Harassment is already banned and rare, but the banning of consensual and, oftentimes, lifesaving support threatens not just the debate on abortion but also the freedom to speak, think, and pray.

Alina Dulgheriu is just one UK woman who received care from a pro-life volunteer at a crucial time. Today, she has a thriving young daughter and is a pro-life advocate.

What’s at Stake and Why Does this Matter?

The issue is abortion today, but the issue of political debate could be different tomorrow. Adam’s case is evidence that if you hold opinions and convictions counter to the government or popular culture, you might be punished.

This is why protecting freedom of speech and thought is so important.

If the government can punish speech and thought it doesn’t agree with, then citizens become subjects of the state.

In a democratic society, this authoritarian approach to governance must be rejected because freedom of thought is an absolute right under domestic and international law. In Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying silently in front of an abortion facility when it was closed. Now, all of her charges have been dropped without prosecution by West Midlands Police.

And Father Sean Gough also experienced the same measures enforced in a censorship zone when he held a “praying for freedom of speech” placard and sported an “Unborn Lives Matter” bumper sticker on his car while praying silently.

Thankfully, both were acquitted, and common sense prevailed.

We at ADF UK defend courageous people like Adam, Isabel, and Fr. Sean because we will always stand up for our guaranteed and fundamental freedoms.

I am being criminally charged on the basis of what I expressed silently, in the privacy of my own mind. I served for 20 years in the army reserves, including a tour in Afghanistan, to protect the fundamental freedoms that this country is built upon.
Adam Smith-Connor
Veteran

‘Buffer Zone’ FAQs

ADF UK stand firmly against harassment against women in any circumstances. Censorship zones (so-called “buffer zones”) aren’t the solution to protecting women from harassment.   Harrassment is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland under – to name just one example – the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (and the adjacent Protection From Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order of the same year).  In Scotland, if someone is engaging in harassment, they can be subject to a non-harassment order. If that order is breached, it’s an offence with up to 2 years jail time.   Censorship zones, then, wouldn’t newly ban harassment. They would, however, newly ban other forms of behavior which are perfectly legal, protected in human rights law under freedom of speech, thought, and assembly, and indeed can be a vital lifeline to women.

In 2018, the UK Home Office reviewed the situation outside abortion facilities nationwide. Considering evidence gathered about harassment, the Home Secretary at the time said this:  “…what is clear from the evidence we gathered is that these activities are not the norm, and predominantly, anti-abortion activities are more passive in nature. The main activities reported to us during protests include praying, displaying banners, and handing out leaflets.”  (Since 2018, there has been no evidence of a substantive escalation of any violence, abuse, or harassment outside of abortion facilities).  The Home Secretary thus concluded, “Introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature.”  This conclusion corresponds with the testimonies of women who say they felt helped, not harassed, by volunteers in nearby abortion facilities.  Alina Dulgheriu is one such woman who has made her story public. She was alone, abandoned, and jobless when she found herself in a crisis pregnancy. Like almost 1 in 5 women who have abortions, she felt pressured into the decision. She thought she had no choice but to abort her child. Fortunately, Alina received a leaflet about help available, right at her point of need. She chose to accept the offer and flourishes as a mother today. Find her story, as well as others, at www.behereforme.org.

PSPOs were designed to grant local authorities the power to target particular anti-social activities such as dog fouling, control of fires & barbecues etc. Parliament did not intend such orders to be used as unaccountable tools to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms.

Unlike Court Orders, injunctions or other targeted measures, PSPOs are not targeted at any specific individual and are easier for councils to implement with more limited accountability and scrutiny.

The question of intentions is a good one that ought to be more common in debates concerning criminal law. Increasingly, we are seeing criminal laws apply without reference to the accused’s intentions, with the feelings of the accuser treated as almost sacrosanct, and officers unthinkingly arresting individuals in public spaces based on reports that some bystanders are offended instead of considering the fundamental rights at play.

In a democratic society, being offended by others is a given. It is a significantly less costly price to pay than ceding fundamental rights to the state. We know from history that once fundamental rights are ceded, the state will very rarely, if ever, willingly give them back.

The law should be able to differentiate between silent unassuming prayer and charitable offers of help and criminal harassment and intimidation. PSPOs conflate all of these, bringing the threshold of criminality to an impermissibly low level. The government should look at the PSPO legislative regime and either scrap it in its entirety or expressly prohibit any interference with the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights.

The reference to intimidation in Isabel’s charge is particularly alarming. At all material times, Isabel prayed silently while the abortion facility was closed. The wording of the charge appears to accuse her of intimidating by silent prayer, which is wholly new territory.

This question misses the point and displays the basic religious illiteracy that has been all too common from British police officers in recent years ranging from the routine arrest of street preachers to denying the late David Ames MP access to priests.

Of course, Isabel or Adam could have prayed at home. But the more pertinent question is whether or not the state can legitimately restrict their ability to pray silently about abortion in a public space.

A climate protester standing next to Isabel or Adam would not have been arrested. Assuming Isabel kneeled in prayer to God and was next to a campaigner doing the same for BLM, only Isabel would have been arrested. Isabel was arrested for the nature of her thoughts, who she was thinking towards (God) and where she was thinking them.

Silent prayer is possibly the most private action that one could manifest in public – an expression of thought.  In a free and fair democracy, everyone sometimes feels discomfort when confronted with a different thought or idea. Part of upholding an equal society is allowing for diversity in the public square. Although someone might find the idea of public prayer outside of an abortion facility disagreeable, this doesn’t mean it’s right to arrest and restrict the rights and freedoms of others.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, proposed national buffer zones legislation broadens criminal liability to any “influencing activity”. The scope of this term is so vague and unclear that it betrays the basic rules of good law.   Indeed, the scope is so broad that it would inevitably lead to numerous unjust arrests and needless interferences with the fundamental rights of people to think and speak on the public street freely.   In a recent submission to the Supreme Court, the Lord Advocate for Scotland clarified her belief that silent prayer should be treated the same as violent or threatening behaviour, alleging that silent prayer could be ‘psychologically damaging’.

West Midlands Police’s tweet was misleading to the extent that it purports to be a clarification. It a) omits the terms of the PSPO and b) provides incomplete details of the charge.   

The tweet also suggested that Isabel was arrested ‘to protect women from harassment’ when seeking an abortion. But they appear to have missed a crucial fact: the abortion clinic was closed when Isabel prayed. No woman would have been seeking an abortion at that time.

And even if the abortion centre was open, standing still and unassuming in a public space is an impermissibly low bar for criminal liability. Parliament did not introduce PSPOs to reduce the threshold of criminal harassment to include peaceful and harmless conduct. 

For those who remain unconvinced that pro-life volunteers outside abortion facilities help women, please see the accounts of these women.

Pro-choice advocates should see the glaring inconsistency in arguing for a woman’s right to choose abortion while simultaneously denying their right to choose to engage in offers to discuss charitable alternatives to abortion.

A woman’s freedom to choose to keep her child does not suddenly disappear as she approaches the public spaces around an abortion centre.  

The idea that a decision has already been made ignores the fact that women are often unsure, coerced, confused or otherwise pressured toward abortion. 

Importantly, the idea that a woman has already made her decision when approaching the abortion centre cannot be reconciled with the fact that abortion centres are themselves meant to provide counselling support, including support for those wishing to keep their child.  

Such support would be unnecessary if it is assumed that the visiting woman has already made an unchangeable decision. 

No. The paramount rights in law, in this case, are freedom of thought and religion. Freedom of thought is an absolute right, which means the state cannot interfere with it under any circumstances.

Freedom of religion can only be interfered with by the state when strictly necessary and proportionate to do so. Given that Isabel and Adam both stood and prayed silently in a public space, it is hard to see how an arrest, prosecution or penalty fine could ever be justified.

The idea that a decision has already been made ignores the fact that women are often unsure, coerced, confused or otherwise pressured toward abortion. 

Importantly, the idea that a woman has already made her decision when approaching the abortion centre cannot be reconciled with the fact that abortion centres are themselves meant to provide counselling support, including support for those wishing to keep their child.  

Such support would be unnecessary if it is assumed that the visiting woman has already made an unchangeable decision. 

Pro-choice advocates should see the glaring inconsistency in arguing for a woman’s right to choose abortion while simultaneously denying their right to choose to engage in offers to discuss charitable alternatives to abortion.

A woman’s freedom to choose to keep her child does not suddenly disappear as she approaches the public spaces around an abortion centre.  

The idea that a decision has already been made ignores the fact that women are often unsure, coerced, confused or otherwise pressured toward abortion. 

Importantly, the idea that a woman has already made her decision when approaching the abortion centre cannot be reconciled with the fact that abortion centres are themselves meant to provide counselling support, including support for those wishing to keep their child.  

Such support would be unnecessary if it is assumed that the visiting woman has already made an unchangeable decision. 

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