Washington D.C., May 16, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).
House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, threatened to reduce the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s funding during a committee hearing in which lawmakers debated whether laws are being selectively enforced against pro-life activists.
“Politics is driving the agenda in far too many agencies in our government,” Jordan said during a Tuesday morning hearing on “Revisiting the Implications of the FACE Act.”
A subcommittee heard testimony from five witnesses, including pro-life activist Mark Houck. Although he was ultimately acquitted, the Department of Justice brought charges against Houck under the FACE Act, which imposes harsh penalties on anyone who tries to intimidate or interfere with abortion clinics, pro-life pregnancy centers, or places of worship.
“Today they come after American citizens,” Jordan said. “You could be a Catholic attending a Mass, you could be a parent showing up at a school board meeting or you could be like Mr. Houck, a pro-lifer praying at a clinic and you could be targeted by our government. That is how scary the situation has become.”
Jordan argued that the Department of Justice and the FBI are selectively enforcing the FACE Act and other laws in ways that target pro-life activists and conservatives but let pro-abortion and left-wing activists off the hook. He said it is now time to withhold funding from the FBI.
“I think the only way we can actually begin to stop this is we’ve got to do what legislatures do,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to look at the money. … You’ve got to say, ‘Look if the FBI’s going to do this kind of stuff to good people like [Houck] and [his] family, they may not be getting the funds that they’ve [gotten] before and they certainly won’t be using funds in certain ways.’ That’s something we have to do.”
The Department of Justice brought FACE Act charges against Houck even though local authorities had declined to press charges after investigating an incident involving a scuffle with an abortion clinic escort. In 2021, heavily armed federal agents raided his home to bring him into custody even though he had promised to turn himself in to the authorities if the DOJ decided to bring charges against him.
“My home was raided by 10 unmarked and marked units, [which included] state troopers [and] federal law enforcement personnel,” Houck testified during the hearing. “I had five federal agents on my doorstep at 6:30 in the morning with long guns pointed at me and my seven children.”
Houck testified that he did shove an abortion clinic escort but only after the man repeatedly yelled at his son. He said he asked the man to move away from his son several times and eventually shoved the man, which caused the man to fall to the ground. A jury found that his actions did not violate the FACE Act.
“I became a dad on the street concerned for my son,” Houck said.
Some of the committee members pointed out the contrast between the federal government’s approach to Houck and its approach to the increasing number of attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there have been more than 100 instances of pro-abortion vandalism, which has included graffiti, damaged property, and arson. The federal government has only brought charges under the FACE Act against one group of alleged vandals in Florida.
“While these radical left-wing groups go unpunished, the Justice Department at the same time has unleashed federal law enforcement on pro-life advocates,” Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana said.
One of the pro-life pregnancy centers that was vandalized was New Life Family Services, based in Minneapolis. Tammy Kocher, the center’s executive director, testified that its new building was badly damaged.
“We had multiple windows smashed in. The front of our building was covered with threatening graffiti messages,” Kocher told committee members. “Again, we were warned ‘If abortions aren’t safe, then neither are you.’ Other graffiti stated ‘Jane was here,’ ‘F12,’ etc. The vandals caused more than $30,000 worth of damage in a matter of two minutes.”
Kocher said she has been in touch with the FBI but that she does not know if it has identified any suspects. New Life Family Services was the fifth pro-life pregnancy center vandalized in the state and there have not yet been any arrests in any of these incidents, according to Kocher.
Arielle Del Turco, the director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, testified that her organization has tracked a rise in attacks on places of worship, which have included acts of vandalism and bomb threats. There have been more than 500 attacks against churches since 2018 and at least 57 pro-abortion attacks against churches since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, she said.
“Violent attacks against places of worship are completely unacceptable and it should concern those of all faiths and political persuasions,” Del Turco said. “As long as the FACE Act is on the books, it should be used to go after perpetrators of attacks on places of worship.”
Jeremy Dys, who serves as senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, said the most difficult part of prosecuting these cases is the initial step of finding the person responsible. He said that starts with the Department of Justice.
“It’s incumbent upon our leadership to ensure that the full weight of the federal government and the law is being applied,” Dys said.
Democrats accuse Republicans of creating a false narrative
Some Democratic committee members accused Republicans of pushing a false narrative. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pennsylvania, argued that the federal government has offered rewards for people who provide information on the attacks.
Scanlon added that the Department of Justice has been in contact with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to increase awareness of the protections offered under the FACE Act.
“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to push a false narrative that the federal government is out to get them, but the facts are not on their side,” Scanlon said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said it appears as though the Department of Justice is enforcing the law fairly.
“There is zero evidence that federal prosecutors are selectively targeting anti-abortion protesters under the FACE Act,” Nadler said.
Talcott Camp, the chief legal and strategy officer at the National Abortion Federation, argued that attacks on abortion clinics in states where abortion remains legal have also increased since the Supreme Court decision.
“Just as Dobbs left open the door for a nationwide ban on abortion, Dobbs also emboldened anti-abortion extremists to go specifically to clinics and states that protect abortion rights,” Camp said.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!