‘This is wrong’: Anglican priest challenges CofE leaders to condemn arrest of woman in silent prayer
An Anglican priest, the Rev. Calvin Robinson, has challenged leaders of the Church of England, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to speak out against the arrest of a British pro-life activist, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham.
“No one should ever be arrested for silent prayer. Not in the U.K., not anywhere,” wrote Robinson, an Anglican deacon and a commentator, on Twitter, responding to the arrest of Vaughn-Spruce, the director of March for Life U.K., outside the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton, Birmingham, on Dec. 6.
“Regardless of your position on abortion, this is wrong. I await our very vocal religious leaders to speak out in support of Isabel and freedom of religion,” Robinson added, tagging Welby, Archbishop of York Cottrell Stephen and Bishop of London Sarah Mullally.
Vaughan-Spruce was charged with four counts of violating a Public Space Protection Order.
According to ADF International, a legal nonprofit handling her case, authorities were tipped off by an onlooker who said Vaughn-Spruce was outside the clinic on three occasions while it was closed. Vaughn-Spruce wasn't carrying any signs or placards.
At the police station, law enforcement officials presented Vaughn-Spruce with pictures of herself outside the abortion clinic and inquired whether she was praying. She responded by asserting that while she “might” have been praying in some of the pictures, she also could have been thinking about other topics, such as her lunch.
Robinson later tweeted, “Has anyone shared the story with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the College of Bishops? Perhaps they haven’t seen it, yet. Why else would they not be speaking up for a persecuted Christian in the U.K.?”
The priest also condemned the Public Spaces Protection Orders, writing that they were “designed to combat antisocial behavior, but councils have adapted them for buffer/exclusion zones around abortion centers.”
The PSPO prohibits “protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted act of approval or disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means,” including “graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling” outside the abortion clinic.
The order, authorized on Sept. 7, applies to an area extending from one block west of the abortion clinic to two blocks east of the facility as well as one block to its south. It states that violators could be subject to a fine.
“Praying is a breach of these PSPOs,” Robinson says on Twitter. “An attack on freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of association.”
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a British businessman and former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, has challenged the government following Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest, according to ADF International.
Raising the case in parliament, Pearson asked the government “what assessment they have made of the arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce by police in Birmingham in December; and what steps they intend to take to ensure that the rights of (1) freedom of religion, and (2) freedom of thought, are upheld.”
On his talk show on GETTR, Robison interviewed Vaughan-Spruce. She has been in the PSPO area four times to pray silently near the abortion clinic when it's closed.
After her arrest, she was initially and briefly locked up in a cell, she said, adding that she was then “interviewed or interrogated.”
“They wanted to know what I was praying.” Police eventually released her on bail, she said.
The evidence the police say they have are some photographs of her standing near the abortion center, Vaughan-Spruce said, adding that she is part of 40 Days for Life in Birmingham, which could be a reason some people there knew her as an activist.
The 40 Days for Life in Birmingham filed a legal challenge to the PSPO last month before Vaughn-Spruce was arrested. Activists with 40 Days for Life Birmingham engage in peaceful prayer outside abortion clinics in Birmingham and provide leaflets to women seeking abortions.
As a result of her work, many women have chosen to give life to their children after they were given other options which makes her happy, she said. “I wish they had spoken to some of the women who have been helped.”
A petition launched on CitizenGo calls for U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braveman to dismiss all charges against Vaughn-Spruce. The petition has accumulated more than 45,900 signatures out of a 50,000-signature goal as of early Wednesday.