“Prayer patrol”: A campaigner sues the town to overturn a law that restricts free expression.
An English town’s legislation allowing police and community officers to forbid praying outside of abortion clinics has been challenged in court by a pro-life campaigner.
Livia Tossici-Bolt, a former clinical scientist who oversees the 40 Days for Life chapter in Bournemouth, is requesting a legislative review of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) that the councils of Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole passed in October.
Activists claim that the ordinance limits their ability to express their opinions and offer prayers in front of the British Pregnancy Advisory Group clinic in the seaside town.
Also known as a buffer zone, the ordinance impacts a 150-meter area surrounding the BPAS clinic on Ophir Road, Bournemouth. The order bars protesting against abortion services through “graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counseling.” The ordinance also prohibits “vigils where members audibly pray, recite scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground or cross themselves if they perceive a service-users is passing by.”
Anyone charged with violating the order is “required to give their name and address to a police officer, police community support officer or other person designated by BCP Council.”
The Christian Legal Centre, a nonprofit legal group, helping represent Bolt, contends that the order was passed following a “questionable” public consultation process. In a statement, the group explains that PSPOs are typically reserved for tackling anti-social behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse and dangerous dogs.
Before the order, a few primarily female 40 Days for Life volunteers offered help and information on abortion alternatives to women outside the clinic. The group contends that the ordinance criminalized its ministry.
ADF U.K., another legal nonprofit aiding bolt, helped Tossici-Bolt file a complaint against the authorities last month for breaching her freedom to pray on a public street.
Tossici-Bolt claims she was praying with a friend in a public space when local authorities warned her that the prayer could cause “intimidation, harassment or distress.” They were asked to move away.
The volunteers held a sign that read: “Pregnant? Need Help? 020 7724 6658.” They didn’t use megaphones. 40 Days for Life also offers leaflets to people entering the clinic, offering material help to families and women in need.
Jodi Benson, the voice of Disney princess Ariel says God has led her career
“Everyone is free to privately pray in a public space.” “Never in a million years would I consider engaging in behavior that threatens or harasses others,” said Tossici-Bolt. “We obeyed the council’s new regulations and avoided praying inside the censorship zone.” However, despite the fact that prayer has been an integral part of our society for decades, these prayer-patrol agents attempted to frighten us into abstaining from using it.
Parliamentarians from the UK expressed worry in Westminster last month that the establishment of censorship zones around abortion clinics nationwide would lead to a “slippery slope” of growing censorship in British law.
“The principle of so-called ‘buffer zones’ erodes the basic tenets of democracy — that is, in this country, we are allowed to hold different views and beliefs,” ADF U.K. Communications Officer Lois McLatchie, said.
Tossici-Bolt’s legal team argues that the council has exceeded its powers because officials wrongly sought to prohibit peaceful and lawful behavior that can’t be characterized as “anti-social.” They claim that the PSPO violates Tossici-Bolt’s human rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit any dissenting viewpoint,” CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams said in a statement.
“Buffer zones are an oppressive aspect of today’s culture that demands compliance and stifles opposition.” The fact that we are genuinely discussing human lives is the worst aspect of all.
The leader of 40 Days for Life Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, submitted a request for a statutory review of Birmingham’s PSPO last month. In the Birmingham ward of King’s Norton, the order allegedly forbids the ministry from praying in front of the BPAG’s Robert Clinic.
Some American localities have likewise implemented such “buffer zones.”
A pro-life organization asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case challenging a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, law that established a “buffer zone” outside abortion clinic entrances, but the court declined.