Pounds for your thoughts

Free thought should never cost £100

Artillery Row

“Separation of Church and State” seems like an obvious status quo in 21st century life. Church encroachment on affairs of the government is viewed with general horror and aghast, but perhaps it’s the reverse erosion of this Church-State contract that is more concerning. Within the last month, the government has increasingly tried to tighten its grip on matters of free thought, belief and expression.

The abortion facility was closed at the time

We had Penny Mordaunt MP demand that Bishops alter two-thousand-year-old mainstream Christian beliefs on marriage to suit her personal ideological preferences. We had policy moves made to potentially criminalise pastors who show any form of concern for young people struggling with gender dysphoria. Finally, we had two individuals, from two separate parts of the country, face penalties and even criminal charges for praying silently in their own heads. 

The video of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest went viral and rightly so. She was promptly arrested after having admitted that she “might be praying in her head” whilst standing within a censorship zone. These zones, so far implemented by five councils under “Public Spaces Protection Orders”, are areas approximately the size of a stadium football pitch surrounding an abortion facility, where one is forbidden from expressing any form of “approval or disapproval” of abortion — including through prayer. 

Apparently, there is no need to actually “express” anything at all. Isabel was only standing there — still, silent, imperceptibly praying in the privacy of her own mind. It was enough to warrant a humiliating search, arrest and charge for violating the PSPO. Specifically, she’s charged with having been “intimidating” to service-users seeking abortions. The abortion facility was closed at the time. No “service-users” were even in the vicinity. 

The thoughtcrime was apparently committed nonetheless. 

Perhaps this is just over-eager policing. A mistake, one might think. If only. Just this week, a similar incident came to light in Bournemouth. 

This time, it was “Council Safety-Accredited Officers” who approached the man suspected of a thoughtcrime. 

“What is the nature of your prayer?” they asked him. 

“I’m praying for my son, who is deceased.” 

“I’m sorry for your loss. But ultimately, we have to go along with the guidelines of the Public Space Protection Order, to say that we are in the belief that you are in breach of the PSPO which says about prayer … ” 

Adam had been far too free with his silent, imperceptible thoughts

Adam later asked, “Can you feel the gravity of what you’re doing here?” Confused, they asked him, “In what sense?” “You are policing thought,” Adam responded. Such discourse can only be found in a society that has grown numb to the value of civil liberties. 

A fine was slapped on Adam, who had been far too free with his silent, imperceptible thoughts. Who can blame him? It’s a freedom he fought for in the War in Afghanistan. A military veteran, he knows the value of democracy and human rights. A few weeks earlier, he had been praying in the same location, on Remembrance Day, about the friends he had lost in that war. He faced no fine or penalty for these thoughts. Change the subject matter to the A-word — abortion — and suddenly, he’s breaking rules from inside his head. 

Abortion is an important topic for Adam. He participated in abortions himself in his army medical training, assisting with cannulas. As a younger man, he even drove his pregnant girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her to undergo the procedure. Later in life, grief and regret for those actions has haunted him. He had been praying about that child whom he lost, and also for men and women now considering similar actions today, for just five minutes when he was stopped by Bournemouth authorities. 

Neither Adam nor Isabel were harassing or intimidating anyone. When Adam prayed, he had his back to the clinic to protect the privacy of staff and anyone else attending. The rules of the PSPO encroach so much into freedom of thought, that these innocent people have been punished for holding an opinion whilst being in a certain geographical location. 

Later this month, Westminster will decide whether to pass a bill which would roll out these censorship zones across the country — meaning that nobody can “advise”, “persuade”, “inform”, “influence”, “occupy space” or even “express opinion” in the vicinity of an abortion facility. ADF UK has launched an open letter to Suella Braverman to highlight concerns. 

The move is completely disproportionate to what happens outside of abortion facilities. Nobody supports harassment against women in any circumstance. Fortunately, this is already illegal. Making it illegal simply to be pro-life — to believe that both lives matter in every pregnancy and that more support should be provided, to pray for the wellbeing of mums, dads, babies and staff in a difficult place — simply cannot be made illegal in a democratic society. 

Free thought should never cost £100.

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