The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) “prohibits threats of force, obstruction and property damage intended to interfere with reproductive health care services.”
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s website, FACE “is not about abortions” but, rather, “protects all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care.” Or, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has stated, FACE “does not play favorites” since it protects “abortion clinics” as well as “facilities providing pre-pregnancy and pregnancy counseling services.”
Sounds fair enough, but how evenhanded and balanced has the Civil Rights Division of the Biden Justice Department been in its enforcement of FACE? Has it used the act to equally protect both pro-life facilities and abortion clinics? Or has it used FACE to protect and promote the abortion industry while oppressing and punishing pro-life services and advocates?
To answer those questions, let’s take a close look at the recently concluded federal criminal case of United States v. Mark Houck.
Mark Houck is a 48-year-old married father of seven children. He lives in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and is president of the King’s Men, a Catholic lay ministry that promotes Christian values among men as well as healing for those addicted to pornography.
One day a week, he volunteers his time at a pregnancy resource center in Philadelphia. That facility is across the street and approximately 100 feet away from a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.
Mark Houck didn’t go looking for trouble. It, in the form of the angry Mr. Love, came to him.
According to witness statements and trial evidence, on Oct. 13, 2021, Houck was positioned in front of the pregnancy center when two women exited Planned Parenthood. On a public sidewalk approximately fifty feet from the entrance to the abortion clinic, Houck and the two women engaged in a conversation.
As this happened, Bruce Love, a Planned Parenthood patient “escort,” left his post at the abortion clinic’s entrance to “intercept” the two women. According to Love, he did this in order to tell them that they “didn’t have to listen” to what Houck was saying. In doing so, he positioned himself on a public sidewalk between Houck and the two women.
Houck told Love “to get out of the way” and grabbed his arm. According to Love, this caused him to fall to the ground.
Later that day, Houck and his then-12-year-old son were standing on a public sidewalk approximately fifty feet from the abortion clinic’s entrance. Witness statements and trial evidence (including a video recording) established that Love left his post by Planned Parenthood’s entrance and approached them.
Love then called Houck an “a**hole” and shouted, “Why don’t you go home and masturbate?”
To Houck’s son, Love yelled that his father was “hurting women” and “doesn’t care about women”!
Houck told Love to “[s]tay away from me and stay away from my son.” But when Love persisted, Houck pushed Love away. According to Love, this caused him to fall and scrape his elbow.
Love’s actions on this day were consistent with his previous behavior. According to Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie, for “weeks and weeks” outside the pregnancy center, Love had repeatedly approached Houck and his son and said to the boy “crude … inappropriate and disgusting things,” such as “you’re [sic] dad’s a fag.”
Similarly, the CEO of Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia had previously wanted Love removed as an escort due to his aggressive behavior.
In any event, after scraping his elbow, Love called the Philadelphia police who came to the scene, investigated, and declined to take action. He then filed a private criminal complaint with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. But that case was dismissed when Love repeatedly failed to appear for court.
Now hit the pause button. The above evidence, which was readily available to the FBI and DOJ, establishes that Houck hadn’t blocked access to Planned Parenthood or interfered with its operation. To the contrary, the confrontations had taken place on a public sidewalk approximately fifty feet away from the abortion clinic’s entrance. And they occurred only after Love had approached Houck and attempted to obstruct and impede Houck’s efforts on behalf of the pregnancy center. If anything, the evidence demonstrated that Love — not Houck — had violated FACE.
Nevertheless, on April 27, 2022, the DOJ sent Houck a “target letter” advising that he was the subject of a criminal investigation. Houck retained the services of a “former longtime federal prosecutor” who “call[ed] and left messages” with the assistant U.S. attorney who had signed the letter. Having received no response, the counsel emailed the attorney, agreeing, on Houck’s behalf, to accept a summons and to self-surrender in the event of an indictment.
But, of course, with today’s woke FBI leadership, there is no such thing as a peaceful self-surrender for people who espouse beliefs or viewpoints considered to be problematic by the Biden regime. Instead, in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2022, the FBI raided Houck’s rural Pennsylvania home and placed him under arrest.
That evening, LifeSiteNews interviewed Ryan-Marie and published the following account of the raid:
Ryan-Marie, who is a homeschooling mother, described how the SWAT team of 25 to 30 FBI agents swarmed their property with around 15 vehicles at 7:05 a.m. this morning. Having quickly surrounded the house with rifles in firing position, “they started pounding on the door and yelling for us to open it.”
Before opening the door, she explained, her husband tried to calm them, saying, “‘Please, I’m going to open the door, but, please, my children are in the home. I have seven babies in the house.’ But they just kept pounding and screaming,” she said.
When he opened the door, “they had big, huge rifles pointed at Mark and pointed at me and kind of pointed throughout the house,” Ryan-Marie described.
When they came in, they ordered the kids to stay upstairs. “Our staircase is open, so [the kids] were all at the top of the stairs which faces the front door, and I was on the stairs as well, coming down.”
“The kids were all just screaming. It was all just very scary and traumatic,” she explained.
After asking them why they were at the house, the agents said they were there to arrest Mark. When Ryan-Marie asked for their warrant, “they said that they were going to take him whether they had a warrant or not.”
When Ryan-Marie protested, saying that is kidnapping, “you can’t just come to a person’s house and kidnap them at gunpoint,” they agreed to get the warrant for her from one of their vehicles.
At this point, Mark asked her to get him a sweatshirt and his rosaries, but when she returned, they already had loaded him into a vehicle.
They provided the first page of the warrant and said they were taking him to “the federal building in downtown Philadelphia.”
“After they had taken Mark, and the kids were all screaming that he was their best friend, the [FBI agents on her porch] kind of softened a bit. I think they realized what was happening. Or maybe they actually looked at the warrant,” Ryan-Marie explained. “They looked pretty ashamed at what had just happened.”
As a result, the homeschool mother said her kids were “really sad and stressed. So I’ve already reached out to some psychiatrists or psychologists to try and and help us through this. I don’t really know what’s going to come of it when you see guns pointed at your dad and your mom in your house when you first wake up in the morning,” she lamented.
Mark Houck was charged with two counts of violating FACE. One count for each of his confrontations with Love. He faced 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine.
Enter the Thomas More Society, a national public-interest law firm dedicated to upholding freedom of speech and religion “in the public square.” It joined forces with Brian J. McMonagle, a leading Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer, to represent Houck.
The defense filed a motion to dismiss the case, after which Thomas More Society attorney Peter Breen issued the following statement:
The Biden administration has filed two defective and discriminatory charges against Mark Houck under the FACE Act, and both should be dismissed…. Both counts allege that Mark Houck interfered with a volunteer so-called “escort,” when in reality, it was that escort who initiated the incidents and wronged Mark Houck—first obstructing Mark’s sidewalk counseling and then harassing his 12-year-old son.
The motion to dismiss substantiated Breen’s argument and spelled out how the charges against Houck constituted an illegal selective or vindictive enforcement of the law based on a defendant’s religion as well as illegal “viewpoint discrimination” due to the Government’s “disapproval” of a message that “it finds offensive.”
In the motion, the defense noted that the “Government has thus far refused to prosecute any of the more than 150 incidents of violence against pro-life pregnancy centers and churches nationwide in the wake of the leak and publishing of Dobbs [which overturned Roe v. Wade]…. Accordingly, the Government’s refusal to apply FACE to pro-choice/abortion individuals like Mr. Love, while simultaneously and aggressively applying it to pro-life individuals like Mr. Houck—and more than 20 other pro-life individuals in 2022—is unconstitutionally selective and discriminatory.”
The U.S. district judge assigned to the case denied the motion and set the case for trial.
Last week, trial commenced in the Philadelphia federal courthouse before a jury drawn from throughout eastern Pennsylvania.
Among the trial’s highlights was defense counsel’s cross-examination of Love regarding his aggression toward Houck and his son. Here’s a taste of the questions asked on cross:
“Do you remember saying [to Houck], ‘Why don’t you go home and masturbate?’”
“How about ‘hey a**hole?’” [counsel] asked.
He also asked Love if he remembered saying to Houck’s son, “Do you see how your dad is hurting women?”
“‘Your dad doesn’t care about women.’ Do you remember saying that?” he asked.
“‘I want nothing to do with your religion,’” [counsel] quoted Love as allegedly saying.
[Counsel] then asked Father Jim Hutchins, chaplain for … The King’s Men, to stand up.
“Remember calling him a f**** ahole?” [counsel] asked Love, referring to Father Hutchins.
Love denied all, but, according to courtroom observers, the cross-examination had been quite effective.
At the close of the prosecution’s case, the judge observed — outside the presence of the jury — that the government’s case under FACE “seemed to be stretched a little thin.” Nevertheless, he let the case proceed to the defense stage.
The highlight of the defense case came when Houck’s son, now 13 years old, testified that Love had verbally harassed him and cursed at him.
This was followed by Houck’s testimony that he hadn’t intended to hurt Love.
“I pushed Mr. Love because he was harassing my 12-year-old boy,” he testified.
In summation, the defense counsel argued that this was a case of a father protecting his son. He added that the defendant “had a right to be on that sidewalk” and that the case centered around Houck’s right to speak freely in public.
The counsel also noted that the Planned Parenthood “escort” manual explicitly forbids “escorts” from engaging in altercations with protesters and that the CEO of Planned Parenthood had wanted Love removed as an escort because of his failures to abide by that policy.
The case went to the jury on Friday afternoon, and, this past Monday morning, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict on all charges.
Commenting to the media regarding the acquittal, Breen said:
We are, of course, thrilled with the outcome…. Mark and his family are now free of the cloud that the Biden administration threw upon them. We took on Goliath — the might of the United States government — and won. The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from day one. This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.
Breen and everyone else involved in defending this case are more than entitled to celebrate. Acquittals in federal criminal cases are rare.
As for the Biden Justice Department, even though it failed to convict and imprison Houck, it substantially achieved its purpose of intimidating all who share his beliefs regarding the sanctity of life. It did so by terrorizing and oppressing Houck, his wife, and his children.
For, you see, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, in our criminal justice system, the process is the punishment.
Mark Houck didn’t go looking for trouble. It, in the form of the angry Mr. Love, came to him on a public sidewalk where he had every right to be and to talk with and counsel whomever he wanted. And, because he protected his son, he, his wife, and his seven children were subjected to a raid by heavily armed FBI agents. The full extent and depth of the emotional damage done to his children remains to be seen and may take years, if ever, to resolve.
This was followed by months of terror — and, trust me, it is terror — brought on by facing years of imprisonment and financial ruination at the hands of the most powerful entity on the face of the earth: the government of the United States. There’s an old Chinese idiom that goes, “Kill the chicken to scare the monkeys.” That, in essence, was the strategy underlying the government’s attempt to destroy Mark Houck. So it is that, despite the acquittal, his arrest and prosecution constituted a mission accomplished for our woke FBI and DOJ.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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