The limits of freedom of thought and expression in the UK will be tested in a case involving an army veteran and father, who has been charged for silently praying within an abortion facility censorship zone, similar to the “exclusion zones” around abortion clinics in Australia.
Adam Smith-Connor has pleaded “not guilty” in the local Magistrates’ Court to charges related to “breaking a local ‘buffer zone’ regulation by praying silently, in his mind”.
Mr Smith-Connor said that he prayed for his son who he lost to an abortion, and for those facing difficult decisions about abortion, all while keeping his back turned to the facility to avoid any misunderstanding:
“Nobody should be prosecuted for silent prayer. It is unfathomable that in an apparently free society, 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. I continue that spirit of service as a health care professional and church volunteer. It troubles me greatly to see our freedoms eroded to the extent that thoughtcrimes are now being prosecuted in the UK”.
Mr Smith-Connor is being represented by ADF UK, an organisation dedicated to protecting freedom of thought and expression.
Legal Counsel for ADF UK Jeremiah Igunnubole has said:
“This marks the third time this year that we at ADF UK have come to the defence of a citizen facing charges simply for their thoughts, exercised in a public space. If Adam had been thinking about an issue other than abortion – for example, climate change – then there would be no hearing taking place today. Citizens in this country should be equally free to hold thoughts about the important social issue of abortion, and how it has impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones. And in any democracy with a respect for religion freedom, all should be allowed to pray to the God that they worship, no less, in the privacy of their own minds.
In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK. Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to free thought. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must not ever be interfered with by the state”.
The trial is set for November 16, 2023.
Australia also has exclusion zone laws, which are now in force in every state and territory.
These laws prohibit charitable offers of support to women seeking abortions, and while the laws do not explicitly cover silent prayer, laws against displaying placards or handing out leaflets have been upheld by the High Court.
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