Local authorities have ended action against Adam Smith-Connor, the army veteran and father who was issued a fine for praying silently within an abortion facility censorship zone or “buffer zone”.
The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council, tasked with enforcing Smith-Connor’s penalty, refrained from pursuing prosecution within the statutory time-limit. This followed the police’s assessment that praying silently was not an offence in England and submissions by Adam’s legal team that the state had no power to restrict thoughts directed towards God.
Reflecting on the ordeal and the positive outcome for freedom of thought, Smith-Connor said:
“Nobody should be criminalised for what they believe – especially not when they express that belief silently, in the privacy of their own minds. I’m glad that, in my case, common-sense policing won the day. However, it’s not right that I had to wait anxiously for a full six months for the authorities to determine my fate. The process, in essence, became my punishment.
“It’s unthinkable that I was issued a penalty simply for praying about my own experience of abortion – having paid for my ex-girlfriend to have one – and my son, Jacob, whom I lost. The decision I made all those years ago now grieves me deeply. It isn’t for the authorities to determine the contents of my thoughts on this matter, on a public street. I served in Afghanistan to defend democratic freedom – and yet, we see this encroachment on fundamental rights on the streets of Britain today.”
A Return to “Common-Sense Policing”
On 24th November 2022, the “Community Safety-Accredited Officers” employed by BCP Council, tasked with patrolling the abortion facility zone on Ophir Road, repeatedly questioned Smith-Connor regarding the content of his internal thoughts. He was interrogated as to “the nature of his prayer” with the view that he was in breach of local “buffer zone” rules.
The army veteran and father explained that he was “praying for [his] son, who is deceased”. Smith-Connor had lost his son to abortion twenty-two years ago, and was praying for the women, men, and children stillbeing impacted by abortion today:
However, police officers adopted a different approach. Amidst recent calls from Home Secretary Suella Braverman to return the forces to “common sense policing,” police officers, in contrast to the Bournemouth “Community Safety-Accredited Officers”, found Smith-Connor to be within his rights to pray silently on the public street.
Footage obtained by ADF UK shows police telling Smith-Connor, “my understanding is…what you’re doing now [praying silently], you can do….this is England and it’s a public place and you’re entitled to do that.”
The BCP Council’s “Community Safety-Accredited Officers” nevertheless fined Smith-Connor for praying silently in the censorial “buffer zone,” which bans “expressions of approval or disapproval” – including through prayer. They also threatened to pursue criminal charges should he not comply. Smith-Connor refused to pay the fine for his “thought-crime,” arguing that authorities have no right to regulate his thoughts.
A Win Against “Thoughtcrime”
With the support of ADF UK, Smith-Connor submitted to the Council that the decision to ask him to leave and to fine him was “an interference with his absolute right under Article 9(1) to hold a religious belief”.
The legal team argued that, “All that [Smith-Connor] was doing was holding a belief in his head. He was not manifesting his belief by doing some act having a potential to affect other persons. His act was purely internal.”
“But for the fact that he happened to be praying in his mind about abortion, Adam would not have been asked to leave,” explained Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, supporting Smith-Connor’s defense.
“Were another person engaged in silent thought about another issue, such as climate change, within the PSPO censorship zone, then the Council officials would not have required them to leave. Adam was discriminated against in comparison to another person in an analogous situation based on his core faith-based beliefs,” Igunnubole continued.
Smith-Connor, who served with the army in Afghanistan, had once participated in abortions as part of his medical training for the military. He later came to regret his actions, realising the humanity of unborn children, and now devotes voluntary time to praying for all those impacted by abortion across the UK.
“Buffer Zone” Regulations Could Result in More “Thought-Crime” Cases
A censorship zone or “buffer zone” has been enforced in the area where Smith-Connor stood since 13 October 2022. The zone was implemented by local authorities through a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which criminalises engaging in “an act” or even “attempted act” of “approval/disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means. This includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling” within the area surrounding an abortion facility.
The PSPO further prohibits religious acts, including reading scripture or crossing oneself. See the full PSPO terms here.
“Fortunately, common-sense policing has prevailed today. Yet a lack of clarity in the law has meant that Adam and others have been left vulnerable to ‘thought-policing,’ which is irreconcilable with democracy. While we are pleased to see Adam walk free today, others such as Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Sean Gough have had to face criminal trial for the same activity – praying silently in their minds near an abortion facility. The criminalisation of these volunteers should be a wake-up call to all those who value freedom of expression – even freedom of thought – no matter their views on abortion. We need clear laws that uphold fundamental rights, and more common-sense policing, executed swiftly, so that innocent people like Adam can continue to live their lives freely – and police address their focus to real crimes,” reflected ADF UK Legal Counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole upon the news that Adam had been cleared.
In the interim period since Smith-Connor was issued a fine, the UK government has passed legislation that introduces censorship zones for abortion facilities across England and Wales, and could be interpreted to ban silent prayer. As a result, there may be many more attempts to prosecute those who pray, or offer support services to women in need, near abortion facilities.
For more on Adam’s story in his own words, click here.