A United Kingdom military veteran has been criminally charged by authorities in Bournemouth, England, for silently praying in a "buffer zone" outside an abortion clinic.
Remorseful for paying for an ex-girlfriend's abortion, Adam Smith-Connor said he prays for the unborn son he lost and for those who are contemplating abortion, doing so occasionally outside clinics. He said his silent praying is indistinguishable from someone looking down at their cell phone or waiting for a taxi.
However, because of "buffer zone" laws, local authorities issued Smith-Connor a penalty notice which detailed that he had been found "praying for his deceased son." The criminal charges carry steep monetary fines.
"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," Smith-Connor said.
" 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 U.K.," he said.
A hearing date is set for Aug. 9, when Smith-Connor is expected to plead not guilty.
Bournemouth's "buffer zone" covers roughly six streets around the British Pregnancy Advice Service clinic and is enforced 12 hours a day. According to a local report, the evidence used by the local governing body to prove that the zones are necessary include praying, sometimes while kneeling, holding rosaries, sprinkling Holy Water on the pavement outside the clinic and handing out informational leaflets about abortion.
"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."
The Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole (BCP) Council issued a charge against Smith-Connor on May 12, 2023 according to his lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADFI).
However, despite the BCP Council being legally required to notify Smith-Connor of the summons as soon as possible, his lawyers claim they did not do so, nor did they engage in any other form of communication with him until July 19, 2023 – eight weeks after the deadline for charging him under the law and almost ten weeks after the charge was issued.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, described the scenario as a "staggering U-turn."
"In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the U.K.," said Igunnubole. "Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the status of silent prayer. 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."
Ingunnbole says that in 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," he said.
"Today, it's abortion. Tomorrow, it could be gender critical perspectives. Today it's within 150 meters of an abortion facility. Tomorrow it could be across the city center or the entire land."
Smith-Connor's case will mark the third in a series of cases in which citizens have been tried in court for praying silently in their heads within abortion facility "buffer zones."
In March, charitable volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, and Catholic priest Father Sean Gough, were both found not guilty after facing criminal charges for similar actions to Smith-Connor.
Though being found not guilty of breaching of the "buffer zone" with her thoughts, Vaughan-Spruce was arrested a second time in March after she prayed silently in the same spot near the abortion facility once again. According to ADFI, six police officers attended the scene. Vaughan-Spruce was released on bail and still awaits a decision on her charge.
Five councils across the UK currently have active "buffer zones" banning prayer and offers of charitable help to women on the public streets near abortion facilities.
On March 7, the U.K. parliament passed legislation that will roll out buffer zones across the country, which ADFI says could be interpreted to ban silent prayer.
Ingunnbole said he is not only concerned about the nationwide censorship zones, he Is also "deeply concerned about the slippery slope effect" and broad viewpoint discrimination.
"Today, it's abortion. Tomorrow, it could be gender critical perspectives. Today it's within 150 meters of an abortion facility. Tomorrow it could be across the city center or the entire land. It's very clear that the justification that led us up to this point where one particular viewpoint can be banned, can apply to any viewpoint. And I think that's really the danger in allowing you know, this kind of criminalization in the first place," Igunnubole said.
The BCP Council did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment.