- NEW FOOTAGE RELEASED – Charity volunteer searched – including through her hair – before arrested and charged for silently praying in PSPO censorship zone
- Arrest and charges take place as Holyrood, Westminster consider criminalising prayer near abortion facilities nationwide
- Support Isabel: www.adf.uk/support-isabel
BIRMINGHAM (22 December 2022) – New footage shows the arrest of Isabel-Vaughan-Spruce, who has been charged with breaking a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for praying silently nearby an abortion facility in Kings Norton, Birmingham, on four occasions.
The charity volunteer, who has been providing support to vulnerable women and children for many years, was standing silently, praying, until police approached her and asked her what she was doing. She said she “might” be praying inside her own mind. She was searched, interrogated at a police station, arrested, and charged with breaking the PSPO by silently praying inside her mind.
“No citizen should be criminalised for legitimate, peaceful activity, even prayer. Isabel’s case demonstrates just how far the state can go if we do not vigilantly guard fundamental rights and freedoms. Politicians in Westminster and Holyrood should take note as they consider rolling out this censorial measure nationwide – if we truly value civil liberties and fundamental rights it should unfathomable for the law to permit a repeat of Isabel’s experience, let alone endorsed by our elected representatives and rolled out nationally”,” said Lois McLatchie, from Scotland, communications officer for ADF UK.
“The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 permits a constable to search an arrested person “for anything he might use to assist him to escape lawful custody” or “which might be evidence relating to an offence”. Such searches must be “reasonably required”. We can safely conclude that our fundamental rights and freedoms are in jeopardy if a search of hair is considered “reasonably required” for a suspected crime of praying, even silent prayer. As the Public Order Bill goes through Parliament, it’s crucial that Isabel’s experience is kept firmly in the mind of MPs. No one should be criminalised for the peaceful, harmless practice of their faith, let alone thoughts,” added Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK.
ADF UK are supporting Isabel as part of a wider campaign to challenge censorship zone legislation. The public are invited to join in supporting Isabel’s defense at www.adf.uk/support-isabel
A “Thoughtcrime” in UK Law?
The censorship zone measure introduced by Birmingham authorities via a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) criminalises individuals percieved to be “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval” in relation to abortion, including through “verbal or written means, prayer or counselling…”.
“It’s abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind. Censorship zones purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal. Nobody should ever be subject to harassment. But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful – I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind. Nobody should be criminalised for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK,” said Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, following her arrest for silent prayer.
Westminster, Holyrood weigh up nationalising censorship zones in light of human rights concerns
In Westminster, parliamentarians are considering legislation to introduce censorship zones around abortion facilities across England and Wales. Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, currently under parliamentary debate, would prohibit pro-life volunteers from “influencing”, “advising”, “persuading”, “informing”, “occupying space” or even “expressing opinion” within the vicinity of an abortion facility.
Those who breach the rules could face up to two years in prison.
A 2018 government review into the work of volunteers outside of abortion facilities found that instances of harassment are rare, and police already have powers to prosecute individuals engaging in such activities. The most common activities of pro-life groups were found to be quiet or silent prayer, or offering leaflets about charitable support available to women who would like to consider alternative options to abortion.
At 150m, the national censorship zones would be larger than a football pitch (115m). In the equivalent space, if one goalkeeper were to pray for the other goalkeeper – regardless of impact or noticeability – that would be an offence.
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, the Scottish government have shown support for Green Party MSP Gillian Mackay’s bill to introduce censorship zones around abortion facilities across Scotland.
The Scottish bill would ban “influence” within 150m of an abortion facility. The government made it clear at the Supreme Court hearing in July that they would include prayer within the scope of “influencing” in their legislation – the Lord Advocate testified that silent prayer could cause “psychological damage”.
Support for the policy comes despite the First Minister’s acknowledgment that so-called “buffer zones” are hindered by human rights law. The First Minister chaired two national “summits” on the issue this year. Only stakeholders supportive of buffer zones were invited to attend these events.