Alliance Defending Freedom International is celebrating a hard-fought victory in Germany after a recent ruling by its top administrative court confirmed that a censorship zone imposed around an abortion organization in Pforzheim was unlawful.

In 2019, a pro-life group, 40 Days for Life, was banned from holding silent prayer vigils near an abortion counseling facility. The local prayer group led by Pavica Vojnović, along with ADF International attorneys, have been fighting the ruling for over three years.

The group had been banned from praying near the Pro Familia abortion counseling facility, despite a four-lane-wide road separating them from the building. 

Pro Familia, the German branch of the abortion organization Planned Parenthood, operates facilities across Germany and financially benefits from the provision of abortion services. In the Pforzheim branch, they solely offer pre-abortion counseling services.

Vojnović and ADF International challenged the ban in court, arguing that it violated the group’s right to freedom of assembly.

The group’s right to peaceful assembly was initially confirmed by a regional court in August 2022, but the city of Pforzheim appealed the decision. However, the recent ruling by the Federal Administrative Court confirms that the city has no grounds for appeal.

This ruling holds immense significance for fundamental freedoms, as censorship zones restricting prayer and assistance around abortion facilities are becoming a growing threat across Europe. The United Kingdom has already implemented such censorship zones, leading to the arrest of individuals such as Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who engaged in silent prayer near abortion facilities.

The court’s ruling also contrasts with the German government’s plans to ban prayer vigils, as announced by Federal Minister for Family Affairs Lisa Paus. Paus intends to introduce “legal measures” to restrict prayer and support services near abortion-related facilities and abolish section 218 of the German criminal code, which regulates abortions.

Tomislav Cunovic, Pavica Vojnovic’s lawyer, said that freedom of assembly and expression are cornerstones of democracy and the rule of law. That is why blanket bans on prayer assemblies based on mere allegations are contrary to fundamental rights. “The courts have recognised this,” Cunovic said. 

Dr. Felix Böllmann, Director of European advocacy for ADF International, highlighted the court’s clear message that peaceful prayer vigils cannot be banned. He urged the federal government to reconsider its plans to restrict fundamental rights near abortion organizations. “The court in Leipzig has once again made clear that peaceful prayer vigils cannot be banned. In view of the clear findings of the court, the federal government would be well advised to abandon its plans to massively restrict fundamental rights in the vicinity of abortion organizations,” Dr. Böllmann said. 

Dr. Böllmann stressed that the economic interests of organizations like Pro Familia should not override the fundamental rights of German citizens to freedom of assembly and expression. “This most recent ruling sends a clear signal to Berlin that blanket bans on peaceful prayer vigils for women in vulnerable situations have no place in a free and democratic state,” Dr. Böllmann said. 

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.

The organization’s commitment to defending free speech and religious freedom extends globally through its international branch, Alliance Defending Freedom International.

In Europe, ADF International engages at the highest levels of law and governance, such as the Council of Europe (COE), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and has accreditation with the European Commission and Parliament.

Through its involvement with these entities, Alliance Defending Freedom International advocates for freedom of expression, media, assembly, equality, and minority protection across Europe and globally, allowing them to have a voice and influence in shaping human rights policies and decisions that impact millions of people.

For information about Alliance Defending Freedom’s current and past cases, visit Alliance Defending Freedom Media

By Manali