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Not all protests are created equal

The Justice Department goes easy on leftist protesters but aggressively prosecutes pro-life activists


The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

Not all protests are created equal
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All rights have limits and come with corresponding duties. The right to protest, assemble, and demonstrate, like the right to speech, is a subject of perpetual debate. Parameters conducive to order and peace must govern expression of these rights. Cherry-picked quotes from the Founding Fathers don’t provide much beyond root principle. An ongoing social negotiation, so to speak, puts meat on the bones. Laws will always react and, hopefully, correspond to the outcomes of said negotiations over what is acceptable and unacceptable according to public opinion.

What people will not, and should not, tolerate is an unfair and discriminatory application of parameters. It is especially vexing to Americans when they sense political motivations surrounding the enforcement of citizen privileges and immunities. At this moment, we are witnessing such political discrimination especially against the rights mentioned already, speech, protest, assembly, and demonstration, as well as association.

Selective prosecution is an apparent trend, otherwise known as the weaponization of lawfare. All manner of federal laws against obstruction of regular activity, as well as destruction of property, and literal violence against law enforcement—with a high degree of coordination, I might add—is tolerated if it is performed in the name of approved causes. Unapproved causes backed by unapproved participants will be treated differently. Federal prosecutors can namecheck the “rule of law” all they want in their indictments, but that once revered phrase now serves more often as cover for its opposite.

That is, for political preference. Courthouses can be firebombed, national murals defaced, and police precincts seized with near impunity. Health codes, strictly applied to churches and schools, can be wantonly thwarted in the name of certain kinds of causes for certain kinds of protests. Congressmen can spout of inflammatory, borderline traitorous invectives against their supposed constituencies, and nothing comes of it, but Twitter memes about election fraud get the book thrown at them.

But, perhaps, the most acute discrimination is saved for the most fearsome of protestors, the pro-lifers. Mark Houck, recently acquitted, was treated like a terroristic drug lord by the FBI when he was arrested in 2022 during a raid on his house. His crime? Violation of the ever expansive and aggressively enforced Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a Clinton era creation enacted to protect abortion clinics from actual violence, not the street preaching and counseling people like Houck offer.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” “Interference” refers to the restriction of bodily movement, “intimidation” is equated with threat of bodily harm, and "physical obstruction" means rendering impassable ingress to or egress from a facility.

Any coordination of demonstration or protest is now, apparently, tantamount to terrorist conspiracy. If it is pro-life coordination, that is.

The most recent incident involving the FACE Act occurred in Tennessee where pro-life demonstrators were charged, and now convicted, of “blockading” an abortion clinic. Videos of the event feature men, women, and children singing hymns and praying. Children were sitting on the floor in front of the clinic entrance which is located within an office building. Police arrested and charged 11 people in connection with the protest.

FACE itself carries a sentence for the first violation of less than a year. But several of those convicted in the Tennessee case—sentencing is scheduled for July—face 10 years in prison because federal prosecutors attached a conspiracy charge. Last year, pro-lifers were convicted under FACE in near identical circumstances, found guilty of obstructing clinic access in Washington, D.C., Conspiracy charges were also attached there.

For this to work, the accused must have designed and coordinated to violate the law. Meaning, the demonstrators in Tennessee, many of whom came from out of state directed by Facebook communications, arrived with the purpose of committing a crime, and even those who did not actually “obstruct” access are guilty of participation therein. The extent to which, as with most of these cases, the demonstrators actually obstructed or intimidated anyone is debatable. More often, pro-lifers just make would-be-abortionists feel uncomfortable or annoyed for their participation in our nation’s most favored hedonistic sacrament.

In any case, whatever the proponents of infant life were doing in Tennessee, it did not rise to the level of aggressive, violent, or destructive conduct like what the Army of God was doing in the 1980s. But any coordination of demonstration or protest is now, apparently, tantamount to terrorist conspiracy. If it is pro-life coordination, that is. Forced disorganization is the point. Moreover, charging defenders of babies with statutes designed to combat the Ku Klux Klan in their war on postbellum black civil participation would be laughable if it wasn’t so horrific. Ironically, black communities are most preyed upon by abortion providers. At bottom, the question is whether the “civil right” of abortion is worthy of the designation and protection anyway. Saying and showing publicly that it is not, according to our history, text, tradition, and the law of God, is an act that increasingly carries severe repercussions.

Congressman Chip Roy is right: “Biden’s Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life.” This weaponization is unacceptable and inexcusable, but the Biden administration is getting away with it. Will Americans let this go on?


Timon Cline

Timon Cline is an attorney, associate editor of American Reformer, and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary. His writing can be found at The American Conservative, Modern Reformation, and American Mind, among others.


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