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U.K. police drop case, apologize to woman they arrested twice for praying silently


UPDATE: The West Midlands Police Department in England has announced that they will not pursue charges against pro-lifer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce after Home Secretary Suella Braverman sent a letter instructing police that silent prayer is not a crime.

Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying silently inside a censorship zone near an abortion clinic. She was acquitted in February and then arrested again in March. When police officers spoke to her, they said, “You’ve said you’ve been engaging in prayer, which is the offense.”

Police have been investigating Vaughan-Spruce for six months but have now confirmed that they will not press charges. The police apologized for the time it took to resolve the matter.

Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement,

“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 – I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind. Silent prayer is never criminal. I welcome West Midland Police’s decision to end their investigation and their apology for the time it took to do so, but it’s important to highlight the extremely harmful implications of this ordeal not just for myself, but for everyone concerned with fundamental freedoms in the UK. What happened to me signals to others that they too could face arrest, interrogation, investigation, and potential prosecution if caught exercising their basic freedom of thought.”

She continued,

“Now that authorities have twice settled on the conclusion that silent prayer is not a crime – a conclusion also reached by the Home Secretary last week – I am thankful to resume my practice of praying silently for women in crisis pregnancies.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman sent a lengthy letter earlier this month to English and Welsh police leaders in which she chastised the departments for actions that were viewed as political and led to an erosion of trust in the police. In it she said, in part, “…holding lawful opinions, even if those opinions may offend others, is not a criminal offence,” and “silent prayer, within itself, is not unlawful.”

This guidance comes after numerous arrests of citizens who were praying silently inside of censorship zones near abortion clinics. Even after the arrests brought condemnation from human rights activists, Parliament expanded the law to include all of England and Wales.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom U.K., which represented Vaughan-Spruce and others who were arrested, reacted to the police apology by saying,

“The arduous process of this criminal ordeal has been the punishment for Isabel. Moreover, her story has put the world on notice that fundamental freedoms are vulnerable in the UK. There is now an urgent need for legal changes to stem the tide of policing by politics. We hope the decision from West Midlands Police that they will not prosecute free thought, alongside the Home Secretary’s public commitment to protecting silent prayer, will be reflected in legislation, guidance, and practice.”

Original Story

{Published March 8, 2023} A day after a pro-lifer was arrested for a second time for silently praying near an abortion clinic in England, Parliament voted to expand censorial buffer zones around all abortion clinics across the U.K., banning anyone from attempting to influence — through thought, word, or deed — a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Quick Facts

Yesterday’s vote effectively expands the Public Spaces Protection Order across the entirety of England and Wales. That law, first implemented in October in five local councils, made it illegal to engage in various forms of “protest” in areas surrounding abortion clinics. Since then, multiple pro-lifers have been arrested for praying silently, including Isabel Vaughn-Spruce, who was charged by police in December and again this past Monday for the crime of “praying in her mind.”

Clause 10 of the Public Order Bill states,

“It is an offence for a person who is within a safe access zone to do an act with the intent of, or reckless as to whether it has the effect of— (a) influencing any person’s decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, (b) obstructing or impeding any person accessing, providing, or facilitating the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, or (c) causing harassment, alarm or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services at an abortion clinic, where the person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) is within the safe access zone for the abortion clinic.”

The safe access zones reach to 150 meters (over 492 feet) from any part of the abortion clinic.

Opponents of the order claim that it will ban prayer and consensual conversations. Indeed, prior to Tuesday’s final vote, Member of Parliament (MP) Andrew Lewer proposed a amendment to the law that would have permitted silent prayer and consensual conversations within the buffer zones, but that amendment was defeated easily.

Initially, the penalty proposed for violating the law was imprisonment, but it was later modified so violators will only have to pay a fine.

Still, bill opponents say that the government is effectively punishing people for exercising their right to free speech. Speaking in Parliament, Lewer stated,

“Censorship of this sort is a notoriously slippery slope. It might not be your thoughts that are criminalized today, but I think we should all be careful not to open the door to that tomorrow about some other opinions that people may hold about something else.”

MP Danny Kruger warned, “We are making a momentous step, we are crossing an enormous river. When we criminalize prayer… or indeed consensual conversations… we are doing something of enormous significance.”

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom UK, released a statement saying,

“Today it’s abortion. Tomorrow it could be another contested matter of political debate. The principle remains that the government should never be able to punish anyone for prayer, let alone silent prayer, and peaceful and consensual conversation. Thankfully, where the clause initially called for a prison sentence for those convicted of engaging in these peaceful activities near abortion facilities, the penalty now has been reduced to a fine. Nevertheless, it is extremely regrettable that Parliament, which exists to protect and champion the rights of the electorate, has taken a clear stance against fundamental freedoms, opening the door for nationwide thought-crime prosecution.”

The new bill was passed a day after a video showing Vaughn-Spruce being harassed and threatened by police and then arrested as she stood silently with her eyes closed. The pro-lifer, who has been praying near abortion clinics for more than 20 years, was acquitted by a judge for the same offense less than a month ago.

Vaughn-Spruce was initially arrested on December 6 for violating the Public Space Protection Order after police received a complaint that she might be praying silently in her head. Police searched and arrested her and she was charged with protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users, even though she was praying outside of operational hours. The charges were later dropped, but when police said she could be re-arrested in the future, Vaughn-Spruce sought an official ruling and a judge found her not guilty.

Yesterday, the long-time charitable volunteer and devout Christian was again silently praying inside a censorship zone when police officers approached her. One of the officers asked her to step outside the exclusion zone, to which Vaughn-Spruce replied that she wasn’t protesting. “But you said you were engaging in prayer which is the offense,” the officer said.

Vaughn-Spruce clarified that it was silent prayer.

“No, but you were still engaging in prayer. It is an offense,” the officer stated.

No nation that passes laws banning silent prayer is a free nation. The U.K. conducted a review in 2018 and found that very little harassment took place outside of abortion clinics. The charge that there are mobs of hateful protestors outside abortion clinics harassing women is not even close to being factual. If this behavior does take place, it is not the norm. Instead, what you most often find are those seeking to provide women an alternative.

Regardless, this law has effectively banned prayer, both spoken and silent, in buffer zones surrounding all abortion clinics in England and Wales. This is far beyond the scope of Parliament. 

The U.K., a nation that once was a Christian nation, has now fully given itself over to the god of abortion. The leaders of the U.K. have turned their backs on the Bible and the result is that they now punish any dissent of state-approved actions, language, or thoughts.

That is tyranny. British leaders have sold out their people and their country’s most cherished ideals.

Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”

Christians in the U.S. should pray for the U.K., that they would experience God’s grace and again practice righteous judgment. However, we must also pray diligently for our own nation because we are quick-stepping along the same downward spiral, just a few steps behind.

The Church must be involved in public discourse and influence. That’s why we write — so our readers can be equipped to understand and pursue righteous change in the world. For more timely, informative, and faith-based content, subscribe to the Standing for Freedom Center newsletter.

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