Although the First Amendment clearly enshrines the “right of the people peaceably to assemble,” such liberties appear to be abridged when the object of such peaceful protests is an abortion clinic.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE, Act has been used to prosecute pro-life demonstrators, perhaps most notably activist Mark Houck, who was arrested in 2022 by dozens of FBI agents but later found not guilty by a jury.
This week, a trial continued in Tennessee as attorneys for six pro-life advocates and Department of Justice prosecutors delivered closing arguments in a case that could land the defendants behind bars for more than a decade.
The jury is now deliberating in the #FACEAct trial in Nashville, TN, where six pro-lifers are charged by the DOJ with violating FACE and engaging in a "conspiracy against rights."
Thomas More Society's Steve Crampton & client Paul Vaughn give an update from the courthouse steps. pic.twitter.com/ByHgaWt6Ka
— Thomas More Society (@ThomasMoreSoc) January 30, 2024
The six individuals were arrested and charged with conspiracy under the FACE Act’s provisions following a 2021 peaceful protest at an abortion provider in Mount Juliet. Defense lawyers stressed that none of the demonstrators possessed any weapons or even yelled at staff or clients, but instead spent their time praying and singing hymns in an effort to express their opposition to electively ending the life of unborn children.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Klopf, on the other hand, suggested that the demonstration by the pro-life advocates was akin to blocking access to a polling place in an effort to prevent individuals from exercising their right to vote, adding that “something is not peaceful if laws are broken.”
Of course, the law at hand has become the subject of significant backlash by critics, particularly on the right, who say it is being used to silence Americans who oppose abortion.
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who co-sponsored a bill aimed at repealing the FACE Act, explained his opposition in a statement last year.
“Our Constitution reserved general police power to the state,” he said. “Congress infringed on the state’s police power when they passed the FACE Act. The Biden DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally suspect law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from violent attacks.”
Co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) offered a similar denunciation.
“Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs,” he declared. “Yet, 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. Our Constitution separates power between the federal government and the states for a reason, and we ignore that safeguard at our own peril.”