England an Wales is criminalising silent prayer with “buffer zones” clause
On 7 March the House of Commons voted to comprehensively introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics to the Public Order Bill for the final time. The clause to the bill was approved by a majority of 299 MPs in favor to 116 against.
Now that the Public Order Bill is set to become law, any form of “influence” around abortion clinics will be criminalised, including silent prayer or consensual conversations, de facto making “thought crime” a reality in the UK. Experts have commented that while harassment and intimidation are already illegal, this law would be a serious attack on freedom of speech and freedom of thought.
The discussion to introduce a “buffer zones” clause to the Public Order Bill, affecting England and Wales, had been taking place since May last year, and similar legislation had already been passed in Northern Ireland in 2022.
Now it has finally been approved despite the fears that this would represent the introduction of a “thought crime” into law, since the clause does not contain any exception allowing silent prayer inside the buffer zones, among other non-coercive actions. An amendment to permit silent prayer and consensual conversations within the censorship zones were proposed by Andrew Lewer MP, but failed to pass. As a result, the bill will now move on to receive royal assent, after which it will become law.