Court Drops Charges Against Catholic Priest for Silently Praying Outside Abortion Clinic

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 16, 2023   |   10:43AM   |   London, England

A court has dropped criminal charges against a Catholic priest for silently praying outside an abortion clinic — in what was the third such arrest in recent weeks of peaceful pro-life people.

Father Sean Gough stood silently holding a “praying for free speech” sign near a closed abortion facility to protest recent cases of bogus arrest. But that didn’t stop law enforcement from enforcing a law specifically designed to silent pro-life people and arresting Father Gough and charging him. Father Gough was interrogated, charged with breaching censorship zone which prohibits prayer and the sharing of pregnancy support information.

The Catholic priest also faced a further charge related to parking his car, which for some time has had on it a small “unborn lives matter” bumper sticker, within the same area. The area surrounding the facility, located on Station Road, has been covered by a local Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), in force since November, which prohibits prayer, distributing information about pregnancy help services, and other activities considered to constitute “protest”.

For peacefully supporting free speech within the censorship zone, Father Sean Gough was charged with “intimidating service-users” of the abortion facility. This was despite the fact that all this happened while the abortion facility was closed.

But today, a court dropped the charges agaisnt him and agaisnt a pro-life leader for also praying silently outside the abortion business.

Prosecutor Ekene Pruce told the hearing at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court that the CPS had dropped four charges of failing to comply with a PSPO brought against Father Gough. Pruce said both cases had been judged not to meet the ‘full code test’ for prosecutors – which assesses whether prosecutions are in the public interest and if there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

Father Gough celebrated the ruling, saying, “I’m pleased that I’ve been cleared of all charges today and to have cleared my name. I stand by my beliefs – unborn lives do matter. But whatever your views are on abortion, we can all agree that a democratic country cannot be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes.”

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“I call on the government to look into the overwhelming positive work that pro-life groups do to support vulnerable women at their point of need, before censoring the streets of the UK and allowing good people to be criminalised for acts of love,” he added.

ADF UK legal counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole said after the ruling, “Isabel and Father Sean’s cases show that the current plans to introduce censorship zones across England and Wales constitute a dangerous step towards an illiberal society. We ask parliamentarians to think long and hard about whether we are still a free and democratic society and a free and democratic country and if so national censorship zones must be rejected.”

“I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray? I often pray in my head near the abortion facility, but at the time in question, I was praying for free speech, which is under severe pressure in our country today. At all times, I believed my actions to be lawful – freedom of expression, especially when peaceful, is protected in domestic and international law. It is deeply undemocratic to censor public streets, particularly those spaces where we know that many women have benefitted from peaceful offers of help about services available,” said Father Sean Gough.

When police officers initially approached the priest holding the “praying for free speech sign”, they told Father Gough that they did not think that he was breaking rules. However, the priest was later invited for interview at the police station, interrogated on his actions, and eventually criminally charged.

The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently dropped the charges against Father Gough, but made clear that they could be reinstated. Like Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, Father Gough has stated his intention to pursue a clear verdict on his charges in court, in order to clear his name.