The U.K. Attorney General’s Office has charged a Catholic priest for holding a sign outside an abortion clinic demonstrating for freedom of speech and religion and praying silently.
Since last November, a city ordinance in Birmingham has made it illegal to pray near abortion clinics, offer assistance to pregnant women or engage in other activities that are understood to be a protest against abortions.
Catholic priest Sean Gough has now been charged with praying silently inside that censorship zone and holding a sign that read “Praying for Freedom of Expression.” When police officers confronted him about the prayer, they said they did not think Gough was breaking the law. It was only during a later summons and interrogation at the police station that he was reported for his protest. His presence had intimidated the abortion clinic’s clients. Gough, however, was there when the clinic was closed.
“Everywhere I go, I pray in my mind for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray? I often pray in thought near that abortion facility, but at the time in question I was praying for free speech, which is under intense pressure in our country today. I believed at all times that my actions were lawful–free expression, especially when it is peaceful, is protected by national and international law. It is deeply undemocratic to censor public streets, especially where it is known that many women have benefited from peaceful offers of help through possible support services,” Reverend Gough himself commented on the incident.
The Catholic priest is the third victim of the censorship zones. Earlier, pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying near the abortion clinic. Likewise, Adam Smith-Connor was fined for praying for his son who died during an abortion.
Charges against Vaughan-Spruce and Reverend Gough had initially been withdrawn by prosecutors. However, the public prosecutor’s office announced that they could be raised again at any time. In response, Vaughan-Spruce and Reverend Gough stated that they insisted on a trial to resolve the allegations. The court will judge the charges against the two in a joint hearing on February 16. Reverend Gough, like Vaughan-Spruce and Smith-Connors, is legally represented by the human rights organization ADF UK.
Currently, a legislative initiative is being debated in the British Parliament that would introduce urban censorship zone regulations nationwide.
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