Pavica Vojnović

Pforzheim, Germany (24 August 2022) – Can authorities prohibit a silent prayer gathering on a public street in Pforzheim, Germany? This question will be addressed for the second time by the court on Thursday, 25 August.

In May 2021, a lower court ruled that prohibitions on silent prayer on the public street could remain. The appeal, filed by 40 Days for Life group leader, Pavica Vojnović, will be heard this Thursday by the Mannheim Administrative Court.

Vojnović argues that banning her prayer group from praying “within sight” of an abortion counseling facility constitutes an egregious violation of fundamental freedoms. The group hopes the court will lift the ban, recognising their rights to freedom of religion, expression, and assembly.

“What kind of society restricts prayer for vulnerable women and children? By prohibiting even silent prayer near an abortion counseling facility, the Pforzheim authorities have gone beyond what could be considered reasonable or proportionate. Whether or not people agree with the group’s views on the sanctity of life, everyone can support the fundamental rights to freedom of religion, expression, and assembly,” said Lidia Rieder, legal officer for ADF International, who has supported Vojnović’s case.

Silent and peaceful prayer prohibited

Twice a year, the 40 Days for Life prayer group conducted a 40-day vigil, gathering in front of a Pro Familia building. Pro Familia is the German affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a global multi-billion-dollar abortion group. After Pro Familia employees asked the 40 Days for Life group to move to the other side of the road, Vojnovic’s group complied. A four-lane road then separated the group from the building.

When the police came by to monitor, they found no violations. Nevertheless, Pro Familia demanded that the gatherings be banned out of earshot and sight or banned completely. The city of Pforzheim followed suit in 2019.

“I was shocked by the court’s decision. Every life is precious and deserves protection. It is incredibly saddening that we are prevented from prayerfully supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children. Our society needs to offer better support to mothers in difficult situations,” said Pavica Vojnović, who is supported by the Christian human rights organisation ADF International.

Frankfurt upholds freedom for pro-life praying

The appeal follows a decision in favour of an adjacent 40 Days for Life prayer group in Frankfurt on 16 December 2021. The City of Frankfurt’s geographical and temporal restrictions on the pro-life meetings were deemed unlawful.

In its reasoning, the court affirmed that the law guarantees individuals the right to determine the place, time, nature, and content of their meeting. Regarding the city’s argument for shielding members of the public from being confronted with unwanted messages, the court pointed out that “[t]here is no room in the given legal system for such protection against confrontation with other views that are not desired.” [translated]

“We welcome the court’s ruling in Frankfurt that protects the fundamental freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly. The people making an effort to protect the right to life should not have been prohibited from peacefully exercising these freedoms in the place of their choosing. We are hopeful that this ruling will set a positive example for cases such as Ms. Vojnović’s,” commented Dr. Felix Böllmann, Senior Counsel at ADF International.

Despite the court’s affirmation of freedom of expression, the federal German government is considering rolling out “censorship zones”—blanket bans on prayer and help services near abortion facilities—across Germany.