This Remembrance Day weekend, Adam Smith-Connor – army veteran and father – is preparing to face court on criminal charges related to
praying silently, in his head, near a Bournemouth abortion facility.
Smith-Connor pleaded “not guilty” to breaking a local “buffer zone” ordinance last Winter at his first hearing in August. The regulation forbids “expression of approval or disapproval” of abortion, including through prayer. Smith-Connor’s legal team, backed by ADF UK, contends that he cannot have expressed any opinion on the subject simply by thinking thoughts inside his mind, and that this prosecution is a violation of his fundamental right to freedom of thought.
Smith-Connor’s next court hearing will take place on 16th November at Poole Magistrates’ Court. Members of the public are invited to support to Smith-Connor’s legal defense here.
“Adam is one of several individuals who have faced a penalty for their “thoughtcrimes” on the streets of the UK this year. This simply shouldn’t be happening in a democratic society – all should be free to hold their own beliefs in the privacy of their own minds, including reflections about their own experiences of abortion.
If Adam had been thinking about an issue other than abortion – for example, climate change – then there would be no issue raised here.
In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK. Censorship zones are inherently wrong and create unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to think freely. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must never be interfered with by the state,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, the organisation supporting Adam Smith-Connor’s legal defense.
Bodycam footage shows Smith-Connor’s interaction with the authorities in which they question him as to “the nature of his prayer”. He explained that he was praying about his own experience of abortion, having arranged and paid for one twenty-two years ago, and the grief he has over the loss of his son. He also was praying for the men and women facing difficult decisions over the same issue today.
Smith-Connor later was issued notice of a penalty fine, despite being there for only a few minutes and praying silently in his mind, with his back turned away from the building.
The notice acknowledged that he was being charged for “praying for his deceased son”.
“You might think this is a story from Orwell’s 1984 – but in fact this is happening in England in 2023. “Thoughtcrimes” shouldn’t be prosecuted in the UK. Britain has a history of upholding human rights we can be proud of, and a respect for freedom that I fought to uphold when I served this country for twenty years in the army reserves, including in Afghanistan. I fought to defend our freedoms – but now my own freedom of thought is in jeopardy.
How can we send our troops out to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice, when back home police are arresting people for peacefully practising their faith and offering charitable support to families in crisis?
“This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. We remember the war dead by upholding the freedoms for which they sacrificed themselves. Sadly, today, we are in danger of dismantling the values for which they died,” said Adam Smith-Connor ahead of his court hearing on 16th November.
In August, Adam Smith-Connor gave an emotive address to the press after entering his “not guilty” plea at Poole Magistrates Court:
Thought on Trial
Smith-Connor’s legal team contend that freedom of thought is protected absolutely through the Human Rights Act and therefore the Council has no power to introduce a prohibition on silent prayer.
At the hearing, the defense will submit that the police had, on another occasion, assured Smith-Connor that “you’re allowed to stand here and do what you’re doing…this is England and it’s a public place and you’re entitled to do that.” (see the exchange captured on footage here). It will be put to the court that it is manifestly unjust, and an abuse of process, that he should be later fined following this reassurance.
The defense will also argue that the council is in an undemocratic position of drafting, enforcing and prosecuting its own “buffer zone” regulation without accountability or oversight.
“There are significant questions to be answered about the validity of a council both drafting it’s own Public Spaces Protection Order and prosecuting alleged breaches of it themselves – in effect, putting themselves in the position of judge, jury, and executioner. The rule of law demands democratic accountability which is manifestly lacking in this case,” commented Jeremiah Igunnubole
Pictured below: Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK; Adam Smith-Connor; Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was found “not guilty” after being prosecuted for silently praying in an abortion facility “buffer zone” — Alliance Defending Freedom