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A Catholic priest in Birmingham, England is launching a legal challenge after he was charged with breaching a censorship zone by silently praying while holding a sign saying “praying for free speech” near a closed abortion clinic.
Father Sean Gough was charged with “intimidating service-users,” even though the clinic was closed at the time of his protest. In addition, he faced a further charge related to parking his car, with an “unborn lives matter” bumper sticker, in the vicinity of the clinic, according to ADF UK, the organization supporting Gough’s legal battle.
The area around the clinic has been covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) since November, meaning prayer, handing out information about pregnancy services, and other activities deemed to be “protest” are prohibited.
“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,” Father Gough said in a statement.
At the time of the protest, police said they didn’t believe any laws were being broken; however, later Gough was invited to the police for an interview, interrogated and then criminally charged. The charges have since been dropped, but not without a warning that they could be reinstated.
Gough has now decided to mount a legal challenge to pursue a clear verdict in order to clear his name.
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