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WESTMINSTER, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - Britain has criminalized silent prayer in "buffer zones" after parliamentarians voted against an amendment seeking to protect pro-lifers who have been arrested by police for silently praying outside abortuaries.
After debating the Public Order Bill for over three hours on Tuesday, members of the House of Commons voted to dismiss an amendment that clarified that "no offence is committed ... by a person engaged in consensual communication or in silent prayer in a public place."
The amendment, which failed in the Lower House by a vote of 116 to 299, was introduced in the House of Lords on Monday by Andrew Lewer, MP, who warned that Britain was adding "thought crime" to a list of things the police will have to "assess and prosecute."
The legislation passed in the House of Commons the day after Catholic pro-lifer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested in Birmingham for the second time for praying silently in violation of a local buffer-zone law.
Prominent conservative parliamentarian Jacob Rees-Mogg, a pro-life Catholic who attends the Tridentine Mass, failed to speak up against the violation of human rights law and the silencing of free speech during the heated debate.
However, Sir Edward Leigh, a newly appointed patron of England's Latin Mass Society, quoted George Orwell's 1984, arguing that "the most advanced form of totalitarianism is one where the state is trying to regulate not simply people's behavior, but their minds."
Describing Vaughan-Spruce's arrest, Leigh said, "The police officer asked her, 'Are you praying?' ... He had to actually go into her mind — she was just standing there."
Leigh also defended Catholic pro-lifer Livia Tossici-Bolt who was recently "told by council officers in Bournemouth that she would be fined simply for holding up a sign saying, 'Here to talk if you want' inside a buffer zone."
"Are we not really in Orwellian territory of thought crime?" asked Sir Desmond Swayne, echoing the theme of 1984.
Supporting Lewer's amendment, Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Catholic politician from the Labor Party, said the new legislation is "draconian and anti-democratic, and represents a frightening lurch towards authoritarianism."
"Never in modern British history have we criminalized thought," tweeted Danny Kruger, a member of parliament who converted at the age of 28 from atheism to Christianity after reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
"The issue is not whether you approve of what this woman is doing, but whether you approve of giving the police the power to arrest someone for praying silently in a public place," the evangelical Christian added.
"When we criminalize prayer, private thought or, indeed, consensual conversations between two adults, we are doing something of enormous significance in our country and our democracy," Kruger warned his colleagues in the House of Commons.
"Where does this lead and what are we doing by saying that people should not be allowed to pray quietly on their own?" Kruger asked.
In comments to Church Militant, Vaughan-Spruce said that she was "deeply saddened at the tragic news that the amendment which specified silent prayer would not be included in the buffer zone legislation was defeated."
The pro-lifer explained how she and her volunteers in Birmingham "have been threatened, sworn at, assaulted, had property stolen and been spat at from people who are intolerant of a different ideology to their own" for simply "praying quietly in groups of two or three outside the censorship zone."
"Some residents have even suggested that 'the Church needs to move.' Clearly, this is not about women seeking abortion and being intimidated or harassed but about Christians (specifically those with pro-life beliefs) being silenced," Vaughan-Spruce lamented.
"We cannot support laws which label praying an offence, which was what officers told me on Monday, minutes before arresting me. It is the laws themselves which are offensive both to God and to all who appreciate freedom," the faithful Catholic told Church Militant.
Opposing the amendment, pro-abortion parliamentarian Stella Creasy insisted that "silent prayer can be done in somebody's face, can it not, whether or not what the person praying is thinking is private in their head?"
"Let me be clear that I am not arguing for the criminalization of silence. My argument is about the location," Creasy maintained. "The people protesting outside clinics, especially the '40 Days for Life' people, boast about how their presence reduces the number of women having abortions."
"This is not benign behavior," Creasy argued. "They also claim that those of us who support a woman's right to choose are 'demonic,' and increasingly they suggest we are 'satanic' in our support for a woman's right to privacy."
Labor parliamentarian Ashley Dalton quoted Matthew's Gospel to justify the new legislation: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others ... But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen."
"Is it not possible to do that privately, without intimidating others by doing it ostentatiously and publicly?" Dalton asked.
Ian Paisley, an evangelical Christian, responded, "We are all aware of the Bible story about Daniel daring to pray and being put in jail."
Despite over 500 knife crimes last year, "are we actually going to ask the police to get engaged and be detained in questioning people about what they are thinking in certain parts of the United Kingdom?" Paisley asked.
Six police officers were dispatched to arrest Vaughan-Spruce as she was praying on her own in Birmingham.
Crime Rate's website describes Birmingham as "the most dangerous major city in the West Midlands" and "among the top 10 most dangerous overall out of the West Midlands's 44 towns, villages, and cities."
The overall crime rate in Birmingham in 2022 was 145 crimes per 1,000 people. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a whole, Birmingham is the second most dangerous major city, with violence and sexual offenses as the most common crimes, according to Crime Rate.
"This winter in Greater Manchester, while Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Gough were interrogated for the prayers inside their minds, a staggering 898 knife crimes were reported from November to January," Lewer earlier wrote. "We do not need 'thoughtcrime' introduced in the United Kingdom."
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