Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

When the law punishes prayer...

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 19, 2023

From Great Britain, the nation that gave us our much-admired legal tradition, comes the news that a man has been fined for praying in public. Not even praying aloud; praying silently.

If Adam Smith-Connor hadn’t acknowledged that he had been praying, there would have been no concrete evidence against him. He was penalized not for any external action, but for what was going on inside his head. The law in its majesty now proposes to regulate his thoughts.

This case involves abortion, of course. Whenever a legal decision crosses the line into absurdity, it’s a fair bet that “the abortion distortion” is responsible. When the law declares that some human beings are not human beings, and therefore do not merit legal protection, all sorts of intellectual gymnastics are required in order to prop up the flimsy façade of equity.

Smith-Connor ran afoul of the Public Spaces Protection Order, which makes it illegal, in the vicinity of an abortion clinic, to express disapproval of abortion “by any means.” The sweeping Order explicitly makes it illegal for people to gather and “audibly pray.” But Smith-Connor, praying silent by himself, was deemed to be in violation.

Technically, the Order also makes it illegal to express approval of abortion in the vicinity of a clinic. But does anyone seriously believe that a passerby who stopped outside the clinic and said to himself, “Gee, I’m glad abortion is legal,” could be hauled into court? Here is “the abortion distortion” again. The language may suggest fairness, but the law is a one-way street. Only opponents of abortion are subject to punishment.

Will the same sort of statute find its way onto the books in the United States? Could I be in jeopardy some day in Massachusetts, for walking down the street outside an abortion clinic and silent reciting the imprecatory psalms—as, I confess, I have done in the past? It seems an obvious violation of our Anglo-American legal tradition to punish someone for what he is thinking. Yet it is now happening in England.

Again, Smith-Connor admits that he was praying. (The horror!) But another defendant, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who is charged with a similar “crime,” will concede only that she “might” have been praying when she stood silently outside an abortuary. She is deemed a danger to society, apparently, because her prayer (if that’s what it was) might have intimidated abortion-seekers.

Is silent prayer a form of intimidation? Pause for a moment before answering that question. Do the godless have reason to fear when Christians call down the power of the Almighty? Should killers worry when we appeal to God for justice? I hope so. They should.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” [Prov. 9:10]

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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