By Sean Nelson,

A fever of censorship has seemed to descend upon the British Isles lately, and the world—especially the U.S.—finally may be waking up to it.

Scotland began enforcing its new “hate speech” law on April Fool’s Day (of course), sparking defiance and ridicule by biological realist and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, who embarrassed the government when police announced she would not be prosecuted for her tweets.

Ireland has pushed for a wide-ranging hate speech law that would criminalize the mere possession of material “likely to incite hatred,” including on the basis of “gender identity,” and flip the normal presumption of innocence to one of guilt.

Ireland was embarrassed recently when the country, via referendum, rejected an amendment to its Constitution that would have revoked a special consideration supporting motherhood. The government was so red-faced by that loss that the prime minister stepped down.

Yet it’s hard to think of a more embarrassing law than one that would lead to arresting people for silently praying on public streets. Such a law rightfully conjures up notions of “thoughtcrime” and dystopias such as in the movie “Minority Report.” Such a law should rightfully be ridiculed.

But that is just what many in the United Kingdom seem to want. Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a longtime pro-life leader with March for Life UK, was arrested in December 2022 for silently praying within an abortion clinic “buffer zone.” A widely shared video shows a Birmingham police officer asking Vaughan-Spruce, “Are you praying?” as she stands quietly within the buffer zone, to which she replies: “I might be praying in my head.” Immediately after, the officer informs her that she is under arrest.

The prosecution of Vaughan-Spruce fell apart when a local magistrate court found her not guilty. That didn’t stop the harassment, however. She was arrested for the same “crime” only weeks later in 2023 and has been regularly interrogated on the street about whether she is “here to pray for the lives of unborn children.”

Vaughan-Spruce isn’t the only person to be arrested over silent prayers. A Catholic priest, Father Sean Gough, was charged in February 2023 for praying silently, holding a sign reading “Praying for free speech,” and having an “unborn lives matter” sticker on his car. Gough later was acquitted.

Adam Smith-Connor, who once paid for an abortion decades ago but regrets that decision, now prays for others to reconsider. He has been fined and will go to trial later this year.

And in the past few weeks, the world watched newly released, viral footage of a pro-life advocate being fined merely for standing within a buffer zone for an abortion clinic. No signs, not even praying, just standing.

The campaign against the merest hint that someone, somewhere might think there are better options for women and their unborn children than abortion has driven some jurisdictions in the U.K. mad, it seems.

All of this activity to clamp down on the very thoughts and hidden intentions of pro-lifers is becoming an international embarrassment.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan agency tasked with reporting on the current state of religious freedom outside the U.S. The commission normally focuses on countries such as China, Iran, Nigeria, and Nicaragua, which have some of the worst violations of religious freedom occurring within their borders, often at the hands of the government.

In its latest annual report, released in May, the U.K. found itself ignominiously within the crosshairs of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The commission cited Vaughan-Spruce’s case as the first example of “European governments target[ing] individuals for their peaceful religious expression.”

Members of Congress are taking the U.K. to task as well. Speaking on Vaughan-Spruce’s case, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, last month said: “The rising tide of discrimination against Christians in Europe, including the U.K., is disturbing.”

Responding to the U.S. condemnations, Vaughan-Spruce summed up well the international spotlight that the U.K. has placed itself under: “Arresting individuals for silent prayer has put Britain in a position of global embarrassment.”

The United Kingdom still has a chance to redeem itself and place the rights to freedom of expression, thought, and religion back above ideologically driven mania. The U.K.’s Home Office is set to release guidance imminently regarding buffer zones and should make it clear that prayers and consensual conversations are permitted and don’t constitute harassment.

If the international embarrassment from these silent prayer arrests can help turn the U.K. back to sanity, it also could have an impact on the growing censorship trends across Europe.

Germany right now is considering buffer zone legislation that could outlaw peaceful prayer gatherings. In Finland, Päivi Räsänen, a member of that nation’s parliament, is being dragged to the Supreme Court for “hate speech.” Why? Because she tweeted a Bible verse opposing her church’s support of a Helsinki Pride Parade, even after two courts found the prosecution baseless. (The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the prosecution of Päivi.)

As the tide of global censorship grows, Americans—and people everywhere who still believe in freedom of thought, speech, and religion—need to stand up and state what is plain: These censorship laws and harassment campaigns are an embarrassment to a free people.



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