British home secretary: Silent prayer near abortion clinics is 'not unlawful'

British home secretary: Silent prayer near abortion clinics is ‘not unlawful’

Silent prayer near abortion facilities in the United Kingdom is not a crime, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said this month in a letter to the nation’s police forces.

“[I]t is worth remembering that silent prayer, in itself, is not unlawful,” Ms. Braverman, a Conservative member of Parliament, said in the Sept. 1 letter, which she posted on her account on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The letter follows the arrests of three people who were praying silently near abortion facilities in England. The public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom’s branch in London called attention to the letter on Friday.

“I am concerned that confidence in policing has been affected by perceptions that the police have in recent years been seen, on occasion, to be taking a political stance,” Ms. Braverman said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the department, which oversees the U.K.’s police forces, could not release the letter.

Critics of the police actions have likened the arrests to punishments for “thoughtcrimes” in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”

Charges often have focused on violations of a “Public Spaces Protection Order” over a given location, but at least one person — Isabel Vaughan-Spruce of Birmingham — was told by police that she was being arrested for praying silently.

“I’m delighted to see the Home Secretary clarify to police that it is not a crime to pray inside your own mind,” Ms. Vaughan-Spruce said in a statement. “This is a basic tenet of a free democracy — yet I have been arrested twice for doing no more than that.”

Ms. Braverman sent the letter following a spate of incidents in which police were perceived as taking a political or cultural position in violation of a law enforcement oath requiring neutrality.

She cited police taking complaints “over perceived offence taken at gender-critical views on social media; failing to take action against threats of violence made by trans activists directed at biological women; attempting to enforce non-existent blasphemy laws in the name of ‘community cohesion’” and “dancing and fraternizing with political marchers,” among other actions.

“In all of these examples, public confidence was damaged by the sight of a supposedly apolitical police force siding with one group over another in a currently contentious area of public debate,” Ms. Braverman wrote.

Ms. Vaughn-Spruce was cleared after her first trial, but her attorney, Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said she is still in legal limbo following a second arrest.

“If Isabel had been shouting loudly about climate change on the street where she stood, there would have been no arrest. But because her silent, personal thoughts expressed a particular view on abortion — one that is not approved of by the authorities — she … now has been waiting months with a possible court case looming over her while authorities take their time to decide whether her thoughts were allegedly ‘criminal,’” Mr. Igunnubole said.

Also waiting is Adam Smith-Connor, a father and British army veteran of the Afghanistan conflict. He was arrested on orders of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council while standing silently near an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England. He faces a criminal trial on Nov. 16.

A spokeswoman for the council said the body had no comment on the case in response to the home secretary’s statement, but emphasized Mr. Smith-Connor had been prosecuted for violating the “buffer zone” around the clinic.

Mr. Igunnubole said he hopes Ms. Braverman’s letter will spark reform.

“There is now an urgent need for legal changes to stem the trend of policing by politics and return to policing by consent. We hope the Home Secretary’s public commitment to tackling the issue will be brought to bear in legislation and guidance,” he said.