A Catholic priest was arrested after he held a sign saying “praying for free speech” outside a closed abortion facility in Birmingham.
Fr. Sean Gough was charged with “intimidating service users” and received a further charge for having a small sticker on his car saying “unborn lives matter”.
Speaking about his ordeal, the young priest said “I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray?”
Fr.Gough who says he started to sense a call to the priesthood at the age of 11 continued, “I often pray in my head near the abortion facility, but at the time in question, I was praying for free speech, which is under severe pressure in our country today. At all times, I believed my actions to be lawful – freedom of expression, especially when peaceful, is protected in domestic and international law.”
He added that it was “deeply undemocratic to censor public streets, particularly those spaces where we know that many women have benefitted from peaceful offers of help about services available,”.
Why am I fighting for acquittal of the charges?
Because nobody deserves to be treated like a criminal for their thoughts, or their prayers.
Because freedom of speech matters.
Because freedom of religion matters.
Because Unborn Lives Matter!
— Fr Sean Gough (@FrSeanDGough) February 9, 2023
It was reported that when Fr. Gough was initially approached by the police , officers were not of the opinion that he was in breach of the “Public Spaces Protection Order” or buffer zone law which has been in place since last November.
The law prohibits distributing information about pregnancy help services, prayer, and other activities considered as “protest” outside abortion clinics.
However, he was criminally charged after being invited to an interview with police where he was interrogated about his actions.
The charges against the priest were eventually dropped by The Crown Prosecution Service, but it was made clear that they could be reinstated against him.
Fr. Gough, who was ordained in 2020 in the archdiocese of Birmingham, previously spoke of how he ‘greatly enjoys’ the pastoral work of priests in places like schools, hospitals and parishes and encouraged those unsure of their vocation “not be afraid to follow the path” to priesthood.
Legal counsel for ADF, UK who are supporting Fr. Gough, Jeremiah Igunnubole said that nobody should be “criminalized for peaceful activities” and that “This case demonstrates the far-reaching and illiberal consequences of so-called ‘buffer zones’. Fr Sean’s years of service to women in crisis pregnancies are testimony to the good of his character and intention.”