Father Sean Gough. Photo courtesy of ADF International.

A Catholic priest has been arrested in the UK for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in the third such arrest in recent weeks. Father Sean Gough held a sign reading “praying for free speech” as he stood outside a closed abortion facility to protest recent arrests of pro-life activists. Authorities would go on to interrogate and charge Gough with breaching censorship zone which “prohibits prayer and the sharing of pregnancy support information.” The law is specifically designed to silent pro-life people by creating an area surrounding the facility in which all rights of free-speech are stripped. Father Sean Gough was charged with “intimidating service-users” of the abortion facility even though the facility was closed.

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“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 first approached by police they told him he was breaching any laws but after being brought back to the police station he was interrogated on his actions, and eventually criminally charged.

British police arrested Isabel Vaughan-Spruce late last year for also praying silently outside an abortion facility in Birmingham. Vaughan-Spruce was carrying no sign and remained completely silent until approached by officers.

It’s abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind. Censorship zones purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal. Nobody should ever be subject to harassment. But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful – I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind. Nobody should bcriminalized for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK,” said Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, following her arrest for silent prayer. 

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