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German court to hear appeal on prayer vigil ban

  • “40 Days for Life”- group leader’s appeal to be heard

  • Second chance for German courts to uphold rights to freedom of religion, assembly and speech

MANNHEIM (1 December 2021) – A German court announced it will hear the appeal against a prohibition on silent prayer gatherings in the proximity of an abortion organization. This May, a lower court had dismissed the challenge of the leader of a prayer initiative to have restrictions on their prayer vigils lifted. Pavica Vojnović, the leader of the “40 Days for Life” group in Pforzheim, Germany, had challenged the ban on the grounds of the right to freedom of religion, assembly and speech. Her group is currently prohibited from gathering to peacefully pray in the proximity of a Pro Familia abortion advisory center. Experts welcomed the decision by the Administrative Court of Appeals (Verwaltungsgerichtshof) in Mannheim, which called for the facts of the case to be established as required by the rule of law.

“We welcome the court’s decision to hear Pavica Vojnović’s appeal. It’s encouraging that the court sees merit in the case. Hopefully, it will grasp this opportunity to uphold freedom of expression, assembly and religion. In dismissing the case, the lower court failed to affirm these freedoms which are the foundation of every free and fair democracy. By prohibiting even silent prayer near an abortion organization, the Pforzheim authorities have gone beyond what could be considered reasonable or proportionate. Whether or not people agree with Pavica’s views on the sanctity of life, everyone can support the importance of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly,” said Felix Böllmann, Senior Counsel for ADF International.

Concerning developments in Germany

In the same week that the Administrative Court (VGH) in Mannheim decided that Vojnović’s appeal must be heard, the incoming German Federal government published its intention to take action against “pavement harassment by anti-abortion activists” in its coalition agreement. People like Pavica Vojnović who want to be there for pregnant women in need, could be criminalized under the proposals in the coalition agreement.

Prohibited prayer vigils

Pavica Vojnović, the leader of the prayer group, had been shocked in 2019 to hear that the local municipality had suddenly denied permission for their group to hold vigils near the abortion organization. Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for the women facing abortion, and the lives of their unborn children. The vigils took place for 40 days – silently and peacefully. Vojnović and her group were not preventing anybody from entering the building, nor were they blocking the pavement in the surrounding area. Regardless, the municipality has banned them from praying in sight of the Pro Familia pre-abortion advisory centre.

The prayer vigils were peaceful throughout. When monitored by the police at the request of Pro Familia, no violations of any law were found; and yet, the management of the centre requested that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.

“Every life is valuable and deserves protection. I am shocked that we are being prevented from supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children in prayer. It’s discouraging to hear that silent prayer vigils in a public place are restricted by local authorities. Our society must offer better support to mothers in difficult situations. This is about more than our group in Pforzheim. It’s about whether prayer-free zones are lawful, or whether one is allowed to represent different opinions in the public square. That is why we will continue fighting for this freedom,” said Pavica Vojnović, who, with the support of human rights organization ADF International, will continue to seek justice in court to restore her fundamental rights to freedom of religion, assembly and speech.

Censorship of pro-life voices in Europe

Silencing of the “pro-life” message has been a recurring issue across Europe – from censorship zones around abortion facilities, to aggressive counter demonstration to the March for Life in European cities, to the exclusion of “pro-life” student voices on university campuses. Find out more. ADF International is advocating to protect the work of pro-life volunteers and prayer groups like Pavica’s.

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