Police in Birmingham, England, arrested a woman for praying silently “in her head” near an abortion clinic, spurring widespread free speech concerns and an online petition to drop the charges against her.
According to a GBNews.UK news story, 45-year-old Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, director of March for Life UK, was merely standing on a sidewalk near an abortion clinic. She held no signs or literature in her hands, and her prayers were silent. Reportedly, a passerby suspected Vaughan-Spice was praying and reported her to police.
A video posted along with the news story shows police asking her what she is doing. Vaughan-Spruce tells an officer, “I’m just standing here.” The officer asks, “Are you standing here as part of a protest?” “No,” she answers. “Are you praying,” he asks. “I might be praying in my head,” she responds.
After a brief conversation with the officer about a public order creating a “buffer zone” around the clinic, Vaughan-Spruce was arrested and taken into police custody. She will go before the Birmingham Magistrates Court on Feb. 2. She has been charged with breaching the buffer zone order on four occasions, GBNews.UK reported.
The video has gotten more than 1.5 million views on Twitter and has led to an online petition asking U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman to intervene on Vaughan-Spruce’s behalf. It had garnered 46,000 signatures as of Dec. 28.
“Can you be arrested for quietly bowing your head in prayer? You can in the UK,” Franklin Graham said in a Facebook post. “Prayer is simply talking to God, and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying silently on the sidewalk. Shame on the police for arresting her. Isabel said, ‘… 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.’ This persecution of Christianity is being seen more and more throughout the Western world.”
According to Birmingham’s Public Space Protection Order around the Kings Norton abortion facility, people are forbidden from: “Protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means. This includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling.”
Enacted in September, the order does not define what constitutes prayer, or whether or not the forbidden prayer must be audible or otherwise discernable.
The order purports to curb activities “that have had, or are likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.”
Vaughan-Spruce is being represented by the Christian legal organization ADF UK.
“Isabel’s physical presence in the public space protection order (PSPO) area wasn’t a crime in itself; it was the contents of her private thoughts that were prohibited,” ADF UK pointed out.
ADF UK via YouTube.com