A letter has been sent by eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives to Rashad Hussain, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, expressing their concerns about the U.K.'s treatment of Christians and their beliefs and the potential impact this may have on fundamental freedoms.
The representatives believe that the U.K. is on an "unsettling path" of treating Christians unfairly.
“The U.K. is now on an unsettling path that could potentially result in existential threats to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even freedom of thought,” states the letter, led by Rep. Chip Roy.
The lawmakers point out that at least five U.K. municipalities have passed “Public Spaces Protection Orders,” which permit the prosecution of Christians and other people of faiths for expressing their pro-life and religious views.
These orders create “buffer zones” around abortion clinics, roughly the size of a football stadium, in which pro-life individuals are prohibited from offering help, praying or expressing any perceived disapproval of abortion.
“Even more disturbing, Parliament is considering legislation that would implement these antireligious-freedom censorship zones around abortion facilities across all of England and Wales, and recently rejected amendments to this legislation that would have clarified that silent prayer and consensual conversations cannot be construed as crimes,” states the letter.
“Arresting individuals for silent prayer is a gross, aggressive, and needlessly escalatory assault on one’s fundamental freedoms.”
This issue gained attention after a Catholic priest, Fr. Sean Gough, was charged for praying silently outside a closed medical clinic, noted the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. The group listed similar charges brought against several other Christians, including Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Adam Smith-Connor.
In their letter to Ambassador Hussain, the members of Congress urge him to address this issue in the interest of advancing religious freedom around the world. They said it's crucial for the U.S. to articulate its interest in seeing the U.K. government affirm these freedoms for all its citizens, regardless of their location.
The ICC warned that without pressure from the global stage, countries that prosecute Christian beliefs will continue to do so without consequence. The ICC said it's time for the U.K. to be held accountable for its actions.
Last month, the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court ruled in favor of the pro-life activist Vaughn-Spruce and the Catholic priest Fr. Gough, both of whom were charged with violating a PSPO by engaging in silent prayer outside the abortion clinic, the BPAS Robert Clinic, in Birmingham.
Vaughn-Spruce found herself subject to arrest for acknowledging that she “might be praying” in her head outside the abortion clinic, which was closed at the time.
Legal Counsel Jeremiah Igunnuoble, from the law firm ADF UK which supported the two, said at the time, “This isn’t 1984, but 2023 — and nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street.”
He added, “If Isabel or Fr Sean had been [standing] in the same spot thinking different thoughts, they likely wouldn’t have been arrested.”
He described the “censorial legislation” in question as unnecessary, citing “a government review in 2018” finding that “harassment near abortion facilities is rare, and peaceful prayer and offers of charitable help were the most common activities there.”