Boston, Mass., Jan 17, 2023 / 11:36 am (CNA).
Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven arrested by the FBI early in the morning at his Pennsylvania home last September will stand trial on Jan. 24 in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
The case garnered national interest amid shocking details of the arrest and allegations that the federal government is targeting its political opponents, in this case, pro-lifers. Houck was arrested in front of his terrified wife and kids, sparking national outrage and concern over the “weaponization” of law enforcement at the federal level.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges that Houck violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act. The 1994 law “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services,” according to the DOJ.
Houck has pleaded not guilty to two alleged violations of the act, which stem from an altercation that took place outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021.
If convicted under the FACE Act, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.
The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved a clinic patient escort during a verbal altercation while the then 72-year-old man — identified in the indictment by the initials “B.L.” — was attempting to lead clients inside the clinic.
Houck disputes the allegations. Representing Houck in the case, Peter Breen, senior counsel with religious freedom law firm The Thomas More Society, told CNA that the escort was harassing Houck’s then 12-year-old son and Houck was just trying to defend the boy, a claim that he says video and witness evidence support.
Local authorities did not press any charges. However, Bruce Love, the clinic escort, filed a private criminal complaint in Philadelphia municipal court. The case was dismissed after Love repeatedly failed to show up to court proceedings, a former Houck family spokesman, Brian Middleton, told CNA.
Federal charges were filed almost one year after the original incident.
CNA obtained a copy of Love’s complaint, and it only mentions one pushing incident, in contrast to the two shoving incidents mentioned in the federal indictment.
The complaint accused Houck of simple assault and harassment and said the altercation “stems from ongoing problems” with Houck going back two years.
Love alleged that Houck told him “to stay away from him” or Houck would “push [Love] into the street,” the complaint stated. Love said that as he walked away Houck pushed him, “causing him to fall to the ground,” according to the complaint.
The complaint said that Love “sought medical treatment a few days later” for injuries to his “right hand, arm & hip area.”
Breen, the attorney with The Thomas More Society, says that the government’s decision to prosecute Houck is religious discrimination.
“We really wanted to start with viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination because it’s clear that the Biden administration is targeting pro-life people and people of faith, and is doing nothing in hundreds of incidents of violence against pregnancy centers and churches,” Breen told CNA in a previous interview on a prior motion to dismiss the case.
Houck was arrested in September by several agents outside his home in Kintnersville in Bucks County while his wife and children looked on in fear. He was charged under the FACE Act the same day.
“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA the day of her husband’s arrest.
“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.
On Jan. 10, the House of Representatives established a subcommittee to investigate “the weaponization of the federal government” against political opponents, including pro-life activists.
Following intense criticism of the FBI, the bureau issued a Sept. 26, 2022, statement disputing Ryan-Marie Houck’s account of the arrest.
“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said.
“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.
Middleton, the former family spokesperson, responded to the FBI’s statement, telling CNA that “they’re turning this into a technical conversation about the representation of a woman who on Friday morning was awakened by a bunch of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, some of them with body armor … pointing automatic weapons at her and her husband when they arrived in front of their children.”
“This is absurd. If they’re not going to tell us the number, what they’re trying to do is make it look as if the Houcks aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “This isn’t a math contest. The issue is excessive force for the crime of maybe pushing another person.”
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