A priest is facing a legal battle after he was charged by police for praying silently while holding a sign saying “praying for free speech” near an abortion clinic facility.
Father Sean Gough says he was “supporting free speech” outside the closed abortion clinic which lies within a censorship zone.
The area located on Station Road, Birmingham has been covered by a local Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) since November which prohibits prayer, distributing information about pregnancy help services, and other activities considered to constitute “protest”.
A further charge relating to a “unborn lives matter” bumper sticker on his car within the same area was also filed.
Gough, who was charged with “intimidating service-users” of the abortion facility, said: “I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray?
Father Sean Gough is taking legal action over the incident ADF
“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.”
The priest was initially ruled out of breaking any laws by police but was later interviewed and subsequently charged.
He added: "It’s an issue that means a lot to me because my mom made a bold choice for life when I was a baby.
"I was conceived in the context of severe violence, and she found the grace and strength to fight for us both.
“A large part of my ministry is working for ‘Rachel’s Vineyard,’ a charity that supports the healing of hundreds of women and men in the UK every year wounded by abortion.
“I don’t judge or condemn those who have had abortions – but volunteer my time to work for their healing.”
The Crown Prosecution Service has since dropped the charges but Gough is set to pursue a clear verdict on his charges in court, in order to clear his name.
It follows several other cases of individuals facing fines or criminal charges for praying near abortion clinics.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was recently arrested by three police officers after she said she “might be” praying inside her head within the Birmingham censorship zone.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested after she said she 'might be' praying inside her head PA
Similarly, army veteran Adam Smith-Connor was fined in Bournemouth after local authorities questioned him as to the “nature of his prayer,” within a censorship zone, to which he answered, “I’m praying for my son, who is deceased”.
Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, the organisation supporting Father Sean Gough said: “Father Sean is understandably seeking clarity as to the lawfulness of his actions.
“Though charges were dropped after several weeks due to ‘insufficient evidence,’ he has been warned that further evidence relating to the charges may soon be forthcoming, implying the entire gruelling process could soon restart from the beginning.
“This is a clear instance of the process becoming the punishment and creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the UK – a value that this government, incidentally, had promised to champion in their election manifesto”.