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Pray, get arrested, repeat: UK woman charged for silent prayer again

UK police officer standing near car

powerofflowers | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/09/23

Just weeks after Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was cleared of charges for silent prayer near an abortion facility, the entire ordeal begins again.

Just weeks after the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court dropped charges against a UK woman who was found silently praying near an abortion facility, she has been arrested again for the same “offense” at nearly the same spot. Isabel Vaughan-Spruce is once again entangled in a legal dispute for breaching a “buffer zone,” which prohibits demonstrations or protests within a certain radius of abortion-providing clinics. 

Aleteia previously reported on Vaughan-Spruce’s initial arrest in 2022. She was approached by police officers while she was standing silently on the sidewalk near an abortion clinic. When she revealed that she might have been praying silently in her own head, police took her into custody. A high-profile legal battle ensued, in which the topic of government censorship of private thoughts was of the utmost concern, and it ultimately ended with her exoneration. 

Still, although Vaughan-Spruce was cleared, the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) remains in place. Now, Isabel will have to go through the gauntlet again, with fresh charges levied on the director of the UK March for Life. Footage of her latest encounter with police officers has been shared on Twitter: 

CBN News provides Vaughan-Spruce’s statement on her most recent arrest: 

“Only three weeks ago, it was made clear by the court that my silent prayers were not a crime. And yet, again, I have been arrested and treated as a criminal for having the exact same thoughts in my head, in the same location,” Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement. “The ambiguity of laws that limit free expression and thought – even in peaceful, consensual conversation or in silent, internal prayer – leads to abject confusion, to the detriment of important fundamental rights. Nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts.”

Fox News reports that Vaughan-Spruce was charged with breaking the PSPO and is now out on bail and awaiting her next date in court. While on bail, however, she is prohibited from even entering the vicinity of an abortion clinic. This stipulation will most likely hinder her daily travels, as the abortion clinic she was standing in front of was within walking distance of her home. 

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal organization working to promote fundamental freedoms in the UK, Parliament voted against an amendment to the PSPO that would have permitted silent prayer and consensual conversation within the vicinity of an abortion clinic. The spread of the March 7 vote was 116 in favor and 299 opposed. 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, decried the failure to pass the amendment on the ADF website. He wrote: 

“Today’s vote marks a watershed moment for fundamental rights and freedoms in our country. Parliament had an opportunity to reject the criminalization of free thought, which is an absolute right, and embrace individual liberty for all. Instead, Parliament chose to endorse censorship and criminalize peaceful activities such as silent prayer and consensual conversation.”

Read more at the ADF website. 

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