by WorldTribune Staff, December 28, 2022
Earlier this month, pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested near an abortion clinic in Birmingham, England.
Vaughan-Spruce, director of March for Life UK, was not blocking access to the clinic or displaying any protest signs or material. She was silently praying near the clinic when police confronted her.
According to reports, a West Midlands Police officer asked Vaughan-Spruce “are you praying?” She responded: “I might be praying in my head, but not out loud.”
The pro-life activist was arrested, jailed, interrogated, and ultimately charged with four counts of violating the abortion clinic “buffer zone.”
“While this form of ‘protest’ is uncommon as the basis for an arrest, free speech has been in a freefall in the UK for years,” U.S. law professor Jonathan Turley noted in a Dec. 24 analysis. “It is also a cautionary tale for those in the United States, which is facing arguably the largest anti-free speech movement in its history.”
The Birmingham City Council in September had issued an order proclaiming that prohibited acts at abortion clinics includes “but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling.”
Many of those who heralded the arrest of Vaughan-Spruce equated “silently praying” with harassment. Dr. John Michael Leslie tweeted: “No, you’re in violation of it you repeatedly harass women going to a Family Planning Clinic who might be asking for Abortion Advice. ‘Praying in her head’ is the spin from her supporters.”
Turley noted: “Legally, that is itself a dangerous pin. She was not arrested for past conduct but her current conduct, which was praying in her head.”
Along with the persecution of Vaughan-Spruce, Turley pointed to several instances which show “the decline of free speech in the United Kingdom has long been a concern for free speech advocates”:
• A man was convicted for sending a tweet while drunk referring to dead soldiers.
• Another was arrested for an anti-police T-shirt.
• Another was arrested for calling the Irish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “leprechaun.”
• Yet another was arrested for singing “Kung Fu Fighting.”
• A teenager was arrested for protesting outside of a Scientology center with a sign calling the religion a “cult.”
Great Britain “is an example of the slippery slope of speech criminalization that inevitably took them to ‘thought crimes,’ even criminal prayers,” Turley wrote. “These cases should be a wake-up for all who value free speech. If such prosecutions stand, free speech literally does not have a prayer in the Western world.”
Turley added: “It is easy for Americans to wave off such European prosecutions by pointing to our First Amendment. However, there is a growing movement in the United States to replicate such European laws. Indeed, Democratic leaders such as Hillary Clinton have enlisted European governments to force Twitter to censor fellow citizens. Likewise, Democratic members have pushed for a new law that could be used to crack down specifically on right-wing groups based on their ideology.”