An Army veteran pleaded not guilty Wednesday after being charged for praying silently near an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England, a violation of the U.K.’s so-called “buffer zone” laws.
Listen to the latest episode of CBN’s Quick Start podcast 👇
Adam Smith-Connor, who fought for his nation as part of the Army reserves in Afghanistan, entered his plea after previously being fined by authorities who questioned “the nature of his prayer” — an invocation uttered in his own mind and not aloud, according to his attorneys with ADF UK.
Smith-Connor delivered a passionate statement Wednesday as he exited a U.K. court. He pushed back against the unexpected criminal charges and restrictions on his rights.
WATCH: Adam's response immediately following his Hearing this morning, at which the court set his trial date for November.— ADF UK (@ADF_UK) August 9, 2023
The Afghanistan veteran is being prosecuted for praying in his head in an abortion facility "buffer zone".#Thoughtcrime pic.twitter.com/yDUvDpsiPQ
“The facts of my case are clear,” Smith-Connor said. “I am accused of breaching an abortion clinic buffer zone by praying for my son Jacob and other victims of abortion, for their families, and for abortion clinic staff on Ophir Road Bournemouth.”
He said he neither approached nor spoke to anyone and that he didn’t impede any individual’s privacy. He also said he stands against any harassment of women outside of clinics.
“I simply stood silently,” Smith-Connor said. “I am being tried for the prayerful thoughts I held in my head.”
Months after the financial penalty, the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, which presides over the local buffer zone he’s accused of violating, has now filed criminal charges — a surprise to some, as he was expected to not be charged with a crime.
Smith-Connor, who isn’t backing down, pledged to take his challenge to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.
Watch the video of his November 2022 interaction with officers:
As CBN News previously reported, the British Army veteran was fined after the incident 100 pounds, the equivalent of $123.65. Video recorded the day he interacted with “safety accredited” officers shows the officials questioning the nature of his prayer.
“We just wanted to come over to say hello in the first instance and to inquire as to your activities today,” an officer said, to which Smith-Connor replied, “Well, I’m praying.”
That’s when the officer said he was in an area protected under the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) — a buffer zone where protest and now silent prayer are purportedly precluded.
“What is the nature of your prayer today?” a female officer asked, to which Smith-Connor said he was praying for his deceased son, who died years ago in an abortion.
CBN News has covered the debate over the U.K.’s nationalized abortion “buffer zone” rules, under which no one is allowed to protest for 150 meters (over 490 feet) “from any direction” of the clinic.
The Public Order Bill crossed all parliamentary hurdles earlier this year, creating the massive buffer zone around abortion clinics. The bill criminalizes “influencing” outside abortion facilities, which includes prayer, peaceful conversations, or offers to help women with services available to those who would like an alternative to abortion.
Smith-Connor’s case follows another highly publicized situation surrounding Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a pro-life volunteer and co-director of March for Life U.K. who has been arrested twice for silent prayer outside of an abortion clinic.
🚨BREAKING: Isabel has been arrested, AGAIN, for THINKING.— ADF UK (@ADF_UK) March 6, 2023
MPs vote TOMORROW on banning silent prayer near all abortion facilities in🏴&🏴
"You've said you're engaging in prayer, which is the offense."
"You were still engaging in prayer, which is the offense." pic.twitter.com/AId3OguiXz
These cases have religious freedom advocates concerned. Jeremiah Igunnubole, an attorney with ADF U.K., said in a statement this is the “third time this year” his organization has had to defend a citizen who faces charges “simply for their thoughts, exercised in a public space.”
He warned Smith-Connor’s case plunges the culture into “dangerous waters” on the human rights front.
“Citizens in this country should be equally free to hold thoughts about the important social issue of abortion, and how it has impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones,” Igunnubole said. “And in any democracy with a respect for religion freedom, all should be allowed to pray to the God that they worship, no less, in the privacy of their own minds.”
***As the number of voices facing big-tech censorship continues to grow, please sign up for Faithwire’s daily newsletter and download the CBN News app, developed by our parent company, to stay up-to-date with the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***