Local authorities in Bournemouth have decided to press charges against a father and army veteran who prayed silently in an abortion clinic ‘buffer zone’.
The buffer zone forbids protesting, harassing, intimidating or photographing visitors or staff within 150m of the abortion clinic. The restrictions cover prayer, counselling and offering information or help to women visiting the clinic.
Adam Smith-Connor received a fixed penalty notice last December for allegedly breaching the terms of the buffer zone the previous month.
He says he was praying silently for his deceased son who was aborted over 20 years ago. He regrets paying for the abortion for his ex-girlfriend and now spends time praying for people affected by abortion and those contemplating having one.
ADF, which is representing Smith-Connor, said the charges “come as a surprise” after Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council refrained from pursuing prosecution within the statutory time-limit. ADF says that police also previously informed Smith-Connor that he was not breaking the law.
His first hearing will take place at Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court on 9 August, where a court date will be set for his trial. He is expected to enter a plea of ‘not guilty’ at the hearing.
Commenting on news of his prosecution, Smith-Connor said, “Nobody should be prosecuted for silent prayer. It is unfathomable that in an apparently free society, I am being criminally charged on the basis of what I expressed silently, in the privacy of my own mind.
“I served for 20 years in the army reserves, including a tour in Afghanistan, to protect the fundamental freedoms that this country is built upon. I continue that spirit of service as a health care professional and church volunteer. It troubles me greatly to see our freedoms eroded to the extent that thought crimes are now being prosecuted in the UK.”
His legal counsel, Jeremiah Igunnubole of ADF UK, said the case “has no place in a country with a historical and proud commitment to the rule of law”.
“In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK,” he said.
“Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to free thought. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must not ever be interfered with by the state.
“In various other circumstances, the police and the courts have made it clear that silent prayer is not a criminal act. And yet, BCP Council has introduced a rights-restricting censorship zone, which they now argue extends to a ban on silent prayer. The zone was created by the council, enforced by the council and now also prosecuted by the council.
“This is a remarkable consolidation of power, making the council the judge, jury, and executioner.”