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USA News

US commission condemns UK silent prayer arrest as targeting ‘religious expression’

by Heather Preston

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has condemned the arrest of a woman for silently praying near an abortion clinic in the UK.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was detained twice last year, for silently praying within an abortion clinic's 'buffer zone' - an area that bans protests, including prayer.

She was initially charged with "engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users", before later being acquitted at Birmingham Magistrates Court.

The USCIRF's 2024 report highlighted the arrest as an example of European governments "targeting individuals for their peaceful religious expression".

Responding to the report, Vaughan-Spruce said: "Arresting individuals for silent prayer has put Britain in a position of global embarrassment. 

"Nobody should be criminalised for their mere thoughts – this is a basic principle of a liberal democracy. If we can't get that right at home, how are we meant to uphold human rights on the world stage?"

Catholic priest Father Sean Gough also faced charges for holding a sign that read "praying for free speech" inside a buffer zone.

Both Gough and Vaughan-Spruce were acquitted with legal support from ADF UK.

Draft guidance issued by the Home Office in December said silent prayer and consensual conversations within the zones would not be prohibited.

In response, cross-party MPs raised concerns that these exceptions would lead vulnerable women using abortion services to feel harassed. 

The UK Home Office is due to release updated guidance on policing “buffer zones” imminently.

Vaughan-Spruce has called on the government to clarify that “all harassment be condemned” whilst upholding the right to “freedom of thought and consensual conversation”.

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