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U.K. judge finds preacher guilty of “engaging in an act of disapproval” for displaying a Bible verse near an abortion clinic

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“The extract of the Psalm mentioning ‘my mother’s womb’…was an act of protest of abortion…[Your] protest was peaceful…but your actions were not proportionate.”

–JUDGE KATHRYN VERGHIS

A preacher has been convicted of violating the U.K.’s censorship zone law by holding up a sign featuring a Bible verse outside of an abortion clinic as the British legal system continues its Orwellian assault on free speech and religious exercise.

Stephen Green was convicted on February 2 of violating the U.K.’s Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which bans any form of disapproval or protest within 150 meters of an abortion clinic. Green’s crime was holding a sign featuring Psalm 139:13 outside of MSI Reproductive Choices nearly a year ago.

Psalm 139:13 states, as written on Green’s sign, “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.”

Green held the sign outside the clinic on February 6, 2023. A staff member called the police, but when they got to the clinic, Green had already left. A staff member told the police the incident lasted about an hour and that one of the “suspects” was “holding a Bible in his hand which he appeared to be reading aloud from.

A staff member also said that they received a text message from the police saying they were treating it as an emergency.

Seven months later Green received a charge sheet saying that he had violated the PSPO because he “Protested by engaging in an act of disapproval or attempted act of disapproval with respect to issues related to abortion services, by written means in that you were holding a large sign displaying the text ‘Psalm 139:13 For thou hast possessed me (sic) reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb”; and because he “Had text displayed on a large sign, namely, ‘‘Psalm 139:13 For thou hast possessed me (sic) reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb,’ relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy.”

Green and his attorneys with the Christian Legal Centre argued that his right to free speech was being violated.

Yesterday, District Judge Kathryn Verghis admitted that while the PSPO is a “significant interference” on Green’s rights, those rights had to be balanced against those of the women going to the abortion clinic. She ruled,

“The extract of the Psalm mentioning ‘my mother’s womb’…was an act of protest of abortion. There were less controversial verses you could have chosen to display. I can come to no other conclusion that [the verse] was an act of disapproval [of abortion services].. an act prohibited [by the PSPO]…[Your] protest was peaceful…but your actions were not proportionate….I find you guilty as summoned.”

The judge issued Green a fine of £2,400, or $3,027.60.

Green is refusing to obey the court — no matter the consequences. He stated, “I have been ordered to pay costs, [but] frankly I would rather go to prison than pay this to the state that has banned the Bible.”

He further explained,

“Buffer zones and this conviction is a direct attack on the Bible and free speech, which is being licenced by the state. I have no choice but to continue to defend myself and fight for justice.

People are right to be concerned about the buffer zone legislation. To bar Christian witness and to control what people can say is deeply draconian and discriminatory against Christians. 

If it is now a criminal offence to hold a sign with a verse from Psalm 139 on it in a London street, then none of us is free.”

The PSPO has led to numerous arrests of pro-life advocates simply for holding a sign or silently praying. In many cases, police officers, sometimes in response to complaints, have interrogated people about the nature of their thoughts and whether they were praying for the unborn.

These include Isabel Spruce-Vaughn, a pro-lifer seen in the video below:

The conviction of Stephen Green comes not long after the Home Office cautioned that silent prayer is not a criminal offense and began soliciting comments from the public on concerns about the PSPO. The Home Office’s draft guidance reads:

“Silent prayer, being the engagement of the mind and thought in prayer towards God, is protected as an absolute right under the Human Rights Act 1998 and should not, on its own, be considered to be an offence under any circumstances.

Motionless, unintrusive conduct should not, on its own, be treated as an offence. The mere presence of someone in a Safe Access Zone with no indication they are going to engage with anyone accessing, providing or facilitating abortion services should never attract police action.

…it is important that police officers dealing with suspected incidents of breaching section 9 have the appropriate knowledge of human rights. Officers involved in suspected breaches of section 9 should have had appropriate training in balancing the rights protected under the European Convention in Human Rights.”

Despite the guidance and the arrests, two Members of Parliament this week requested that the Home Office do more to crack down on silent prayer.

The PSPO is a violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act of 1998. Article 9 says that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and also the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief through worship, teaching, practice, and observance. Article 10 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.

A country that interrogates people as to the nature of their thoughts (including leading questions about whether they were praying for the unborn) so that they may arrest them for disagreeing with the government does not have freedom of religion.

A country that convicts clergy for holding a sign with a Bible verse on it because it is viewed by others as expressing disapproval or protesting does not have freedom of speech.

Censorship zones are intended to keep women from having to hear that someone disagrees with their choice to kill their child or from having the opportunity to hear that they have other and better options. They are meant to keep the money flowing to abortion clinics, keep up the slaughter of babies, and to make it clear that the government will allow no disapproval of what has become a state-sponsored sacrament.

The restriction of free speech and freedom of religion is growing all over the world. This is not speculation or hyperbole.

Think about the basic facts of this story one more time: Someone informed on a preacher peacefully holding a sign with a Bible verse, the police arrested him, and a judge found him guilty for having the “wrong” beliefs about abortion, a procedure that kills a human being.

Again, this is in England, not the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or Communist China.

And if you think it’s not happening in the U.S., you’re not paying attention. In just one example, pro-lifers are now being sent to prison for more than a decade for conducting peaceful sit-in protests at abortion clinics.

Christians can longer afford to be ignorant of or indifferent to what is happening all around us. As Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of the Standing for Freedom Center, observed recently, fully unmasked secularism isn’t merely a preference for anything non-religious, it’s “a preference for anything non-Christian.”

If Christians want to live in a country where they are free to openly worship Christ, read their Bibles, and share their beliefs like every other free citizen, then they’d better start pushing back on this madness now — or one day, it will be too late.

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