A Christian in the United Kingdom vowed to be jailed rather than pay costs after a judge on Feb. 2 found him guilty of breaching a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) for holding up a Bible verse sign near an abortion clinic.
District Judge Kathryn Verghis found 72-year-old Stephen Green of South Wales guilty in Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court in West London, according to the Christian Legal Centre. She gave him a one-year conditional discharge and ordered him to pay costs of 2,400 pounds (USD3,029) and a victim surcharge of 26 pounds (USD33).
Green on Feb. 6, 2023 held up a sign outside the MSI Reproductive Choices Clinic in Mattock Lane PSBO Zone in Ealing, West London, quoting Psalm 139:13: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.” The King James Version’s “reigns” is translated in the English Standard Version as “inward parts.”
The Christian Legal Centre quoted the judge in her ruling as saying, “The extract of the Psalm mentioning ‘my mother’s womb’… was an act of protest of abortion. There were less controversial verses you could have chosen to display. I can come to no other conclusion [than] that [the verse] was an act of disapproval [of abortion services]…an act prohibited [by the PSPO].”
The Christian Legal Centre noted that the judge acknowledged the PSPO interfered with Green’s free speech rights under the European Convention, but that the rights of those wanting an abortion outweighed those rights.
Green’s actions were “peaceful,” the judge said, according to the Christian Legal Centre, “but your actions were not proportionate. I find you guilty as summoned.”
After the hearing, Green said he would not pay the fine and vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court with the help of the Christian Legal Centre.
“I have been ordered to pay costs,” Green said after the hearing. “Frankly, I would rather go to prison than pay this to the state that has banned the Bible.”
National director of campaign group Christian Voice, Green said the verdict left him no choice but to continue fighting for free speech rights.
“This verdict is a blow against our God-given freedom of speech and our Lord’s express instruction to preach the gospel,” he said. “It upholds a local law which prohibits words found in hundreds of verses of the very Bible presented to King Charles at his coronation on 6th May last year. It leaves the Bible in chains.”
People are right to be concerned about buffer zone legislation, he said.
“Buffer zones and this conviction mean that what we can say and what we can display from the Holy Bible are being licensed by the state,” he said. “To bar Christian witness and to control what people can say is deeply draconian and particularly discriminatory against Christians, while it appears Muslim protesters can say what they like.”
The guilty verdict was a direct attack on the Bible and free speech, he said.
“There are serious implications for everyone’s freedom to express their religion, our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly,” Green said.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said the judge terming Psalm 139 “an act of protest” and meting out punishment was “devastating.”
“The effect of the PSPO is to create an area where Bible verses and prayer are outlawed,” she said. “We will stand with Mr. Green as he seeks justice in this case.”
When he was charged, police stated that that the “incident” of him holding the sign lasted an hour. An abortion clinic staff member reported that Green read aloud from a Bible in his hand, and police sent a text message to acknowledge it as an emergency, according to the Christian Legal Centre. Green left the area before officers arrived, but they took statements from staff members, the group stated.
Green received a subsequent prosecution notice from Ealing Council stating, “On 6th February 2023, you did something you were prohibited from doing in an area which is within the Mattock Lane Safe Zone Public Spaces Protection Order outside the MSI Reproductive Choices Clinic in that you: Protested by engaging in an act of disapproval or attempted act of disapproval with respect to issues related to abortion services, by written means in that you were holding a large sign displaying the text, ‘Psalm 139:13 For thou hast possessed me [sic] reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.’”
The notice continued, “Had text displayed on a large sign namely, ‘Psalm 139:13 For thou hast possessed me [sic] reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb’ relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy. Contrary to Section 67 (1) (a) Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.”
The council’s original legal order of April 10, 2018, under the Act implemented the PSPO following concerns raised that those attending the clinic faced harassment and intimidation from groups positioned outside of it.
In the order, the council stated that it “had regard to the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights,” i.e., Article 10 relating to right of freedom of expression and Article 11 regarding right of freedom of assembly. The council concluded, however, that “the restrictions on such rights and freedoms imposed by this order are lawful, necessary and proportionate.”