- “Are you praying”? Twitter erupts as video of woman arrested for praying hits over 6 million views
- Westminster considering national roll-out of censorship zones; Nicola Sturgeon has backed similar proposals in Scotland
- Public appeal launched by ADF UK: Support Isabel: www.adf.uk/support-isabel
BIRMINGHAM (23 December 2022) – “This is not the Britain I know” – Twitter has erupted over video footage of the arrest of charity volunteer, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, for silently praying near an abortion facility in Birmingham. Vaughan-Spruce was searched, interrogated, arrested and charged for breaking a Public Space Protection Order censorship zone (or “buffer zone”) four times. The footage was shared on Twitter by journalist Mary Margaret Olohan and has so far been viewed over 6 million times.
The video shows Isabel being searched, including through her hair, and arrested after admitting that she “might be” praying inside her head.
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
No one should ever be arrested for silent prayer.
Not in the UK, not anywhere.
Regardless of your position on abortion, this is wrong.
— The Rev’d Calvin Robinson (@calvinrobinson) December 22, 2022
Anglican Priest Calvin Robinson has called the arrest “terrifying”, later commenting, “Regardless of your position on abortion, this is wrong.” Former Mumford & Sons muscian and Spectator Podcast host Winston Marshall stated in disbelief, “Arrested for praying, in her head. In England. In 2022.”
Broadcaster Darren Grimes called the arrest “the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen the police do”, while acclaimed author Sohrab Amari tweeted, “OY YOU GO’ A LICENSE TO PRAY IN YOUR ’EAD MA’AM?”.
OY YOU GO’ A LICENSE TO PRAY IN YOUR ’EAD MA’AM? https://t.co/7NSoYRMo4z
— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) December 22, 2022
Challenges to government over censorship zone (“buffer zone”) proposals
Lord Pearson has challenged the government following the arrest of Vaughan-Spruce, who was praying silently and peacefully, posing no threat to public order.
Raising the case in parliament, the Life Peer asked the government “what assessment they have made of the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce by police in Birmingham in December; and what steps they intend to take to ensure that the rights of (1) freedom of religion, and (2) freedom of thought, are upheld.”
Vaughan-Spruce prayed inside a censorship zone imposed via a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). 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.
“Nobody should be arrested for the thoughts they have in their own mind. The arrest and charge appears to be premised entirely on her admission that she was praying internally. The clinic was closed and she was standing, in a public space, without once engaging anyone. As a public space, she was not banned from being present there. But for the fact that Isabel was praying internally, it is highly unlikely that she would have been arrested and charged, making this a prosecution based on her thoughts. Isabel’s case demonstrates just how draconian “buffer zone” or “censorship zone” measures can be. Politicians in Westminster and Holyrood should take note as they consider rolling out this censorial measure nationwide,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, who are supporting Vaughan-Spruce.
“Isabel’s case demonstrates draconian “buffer zone” or “censorship zone” measures can be. Politicians in Westminster and Holyrood should take note as they consider rolling out this censorial measure nationwide,” he continued.
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.