Once a reservist in the British Army, Adam Smith-Connor now finds himself defending what he considers to be a fundamental right – silent prayer. Allegedly, he found himself in hot water after praying quietly near a Bournemouth abortion clinic, an act that has landed him criminal charges. Smith-Connor is sounding the alarm that the liberties he defended on foreign soil are under threat in his own country.
“It’s as if we’re living out a scene from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. However, this isn’t fiction. It’s a harsh reality unfolding in the UK in 2023,” Smith-Connor cautioned during a news release on November 9. He passionately argues that ‘thoughtcrimes’ should not be subject to prosecution in Britain.
Smith-Connor, a father and military veteran who served in Afghanistan, recalls being confronted by local council officers while praying in silence near the BPAS abortion clinic in November 2022. It was a moment captured on bodycam footage, showing Smith-Connor being questioned about the ‘nature of his prayer.’
The 50-year-old veteran explained that his prayers were for individuals contemplating abortion, a decision he had been part of over two decades ago when he financed an abortion for his then-girlfriend. However, the authorities told him that his actions violated a local ‘buffer zone’ ordinance, the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which prohibits any ‘expression of approval or disapproval’ of abortion, including thought prayer.
Smith-Connor was charged on August 9 for breaching a term of the PSPO. The charge stated that he failed to vacate the specified area when asked to do so by an authorized officer. The council has refrained from commenting further on the matter in light of the ongoing legal process.
The legal defense team for Smith-Connor stated that the penalty notice was served for a few minutes of silent prayer while he had his back turned away from the clinic. The notice reported that he was being charged for ‘mourning his deceased son through prayer.’
Smith-Connor pleaded not guilty in an August hearing at Poole Magistrates’ Court. He expressed concern about the erosion of the freedoms he fought to protect during his two decades of military service. “How can we justify sending our troops to make the ultimate sacrifice abroad when back home, authorities are arresting people for peacefully practicing their faith?” he questioned.
His trial is set for November 16. Jeremiah Igunnubole, his legal counsel from ADF UK, questions the democratic accountability regarding the charges since the council drafted the PSPO and prosecuted those accused of violating it.
Igunnubole pointed out that if Smith-Connor’s thoughts had been on any other subject – climate change – his silent prayer would likely have gone unnoticed. He also highlighted that Smith-Connor is just one of several individuals in the UK facing penalties for perceived ‘thoughtcrimes.’