Outlawing Silent Prayer

Outlawing Silent Prayer February 6, 2023

The next frontier in violating religious freedom:  outlawing not just prayer but silent prayer.  Already, in the UK, three people have been criminally charged for praying silently in front of abortion clinics.

So reports David Roach in Christianity Today.  A growing number of local jurisdictions in Great Britain have passed “Public Space Protection Orders” (PSPO) to create “safe spaces” around abortion clinics.  These are defined as an area encompassing several city blocks.  Says Roach, “The ordinance prohibits protesting ‘whether by yourself or with others,’ and it defines protesting to include prayer.”

Well, police found Adam Smith-Connor hanging outside an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England, his back to the building.  They asked him what he was doing and he said he was “praying for [his] son, who is deceased.”  Thirty years ago, Smith-Connor paid to have his son aborted and is now grief-stricken for what he did.  But his silent gesture of atonement was illegal.  Silent prayer is a prayer.

So he was charged with violating the ordinance and fined.  Smith-Connor told Roach, “I would never have imagined being in a position to risk a criminal record for praying silently.”

Also in Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was asked what she was doing near an abortion facility.  She replied that she “might have been” praying.  She was arrested.

Back in 2021, in Merseyside, Rosa Lalor was “prayer walking”–defined as “praying on location, a type of intercessory prayer that involves walking to or near a particular place while praying”–in front of an abortion clinic. She was praying silently. The city had not passed a PSPO.  But she was arrested for violating a COVID ordinance against protesting. Even though she was outside, practicing social distancing, and wearing a mask.  The charges were eventually dropped.

Other European nations have implemented similar laws, though a court in Germany ruled that the PSPO law could not prohibit silent prayers.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, a legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom International–which is challenging these laws–said this about prosecuting silent prayers:  “Adam and Isabel’s cases provide the clearest evidence that society’s failure to robustly protect the frontiers of free speech has resulted in the state machinery now feeling emboldened to interfere with our most basic right—freedom of thought.”

Notice the progression:  from policing speech to policing thought; from restricting religious expressions to restricting religious thoughts.

The state, in service to the practice of abortion, presumes to impose its coercive power into the inner sanctum of the human heart, forbidding internal communion with its Maker.

Americans should thank that Maker, silently or otherwise, that their constitutional legal system gives them much more robust protection for their civil and religious liberties than many other nations have, including the supposedly “free countries” of Europe, Canada, and Australia.

And yet, prosecution  of “thought crimes” can happen in the USA as well.  A “hate crime” seeks to punish not only the external action committed–which is quite appropriate–but also the interior emotion that is thought to have produced the external action.

We have seen how “hate crime” charges were misused in Finland, where the simple disapproval of homosexuality was construed as “hatred,” so that Christians who taught what the Bible said on the subject were charged with a “hate crime” even though they committed no criminal actions such as assault or discrimination.  And even though they professed not hatred but love for the sinners they hoped to bring the Gospel to.  Their only “crime” was their religious thoughts.

A hallmark of totalitarianism is “thought control,”  defined as “the practice by a totalitarian government of attempting (as by propaganda) to prevent subversive and other undesired ideas from being received and competing in the minds of the people with the official ideology and policies.”  Thus the “re-education camps” and ideological interrogations that citizens are subject to.  The goal is not only to control what their citizens do, but to control what their citizens think, so that opposition to the ruling regime becomes “unthinkable.”

This is difficult for governments to do, however.  People who lived under communist or fascist regimes will tell about how even as they were forced to conform outwardly, they guarded their inner lives.  They might not be  allowed to say prayers, but they could pray silently.


Illustration:  Prayer by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free.org via The Blue Diamond Gallery




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