Civil disobedience, free speech, Christian-phobia and the courts

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on December 5, 2002

National Review's Rod Dreher wrote a good backgrounder on the case of NOW v. Scheidler. It's a good read.

While I'm pro-life, I'm stridently opposed to violence at abortion clinics. My definition of violence for this case is rather broad. I would include: shooting doctors or clinic employees; stalking the same; bombing clinics; defacing clinic facilities; even yelling and screaming at doctors or at women seeking their services.

I also think that pro-lifers hurt their own case when they march around public places, especially schools (some have even targeted elementary schools), with huge posters bearing images of aborted fetuses.

Unfortunately, over the years, some zealous extremists (the aforementioned killers, bombers and vandals) caused the Congress and then the Courts to go too far. The Congress passed the FACE act, which the Supreme Court later upheld.

The law "makes it illegal to block access to any clinic where abortions are preformed, or to injure or intimidate women seeking abortions or members of the clinic staff. " [emphasis added]

The word "intimidate" in the FACE act has an effect similar to the "health" exception so common in abortion law. In getting an abortion, the "health" provision allows a woman to have an abortion up to the actual birth of a child, similarly, the "intimidate" provision can be used as an incredible cudgel to quash pro-life protest. No longer can a person stand outside a clinic entrance and offer a pamphlet to a woman entering the facility. Holding signs? Not allowed.

The thing is, that the FACE act discriminated solely based on the content of the speech. Pro-life protestors must stay back a set number of feet. Anyone else can enter the zone. You could conceivably have someone standing at the clinic entrance passing out "coupons" for a cheaper abortion at a competing clinic -- but someone handing out coupons for free exams at a abortion alternative service at the exact same location could be arrested.

Of course, there's no similar safety zone around churches to keep pro-choice protesters away.

It's not the same you say? Pro-choicers don't have a history of vandalizing churches, or blocking the entrance to houses of worship.


But gay-rights advocates have. Why has there never been a drive to protect access to houses of worship?

Maybe it's because Christians are a never seen as victims -- at least in the American media. When there are attacks targeted at Christians in Africa, it's often described as "Muslims, Christians clash." However, in every objective analysis of the situation, it's usually Christians the target of an angry Muslim mob -- as was the case just last week in Nigeria.

Going back farther, in the 1980s there were numerous anti-abortion protests here in San Diego, including the blocking of clinic entrances. When police officers would come to remove them, they would go limp and were carried away. Not much different than other non-violent protests -- from the civil rights movement of the '60s to just about any college campus with aggrieved students.

But here in San Diego, officers decided that they weren't in good enough shape to pick up people, so they started using nunchakus -- two short wooden sticks connected by a cable or chain -- similar to what you see in any martial arts movie. Nope, police didn't beat protesters with them. Instead, they would put a protester's wrist in the nunchakus and squeeze. Inflicting a lot of physical pain on non-violent protesters.

There was no outcry from the ACLU or any other civil rights organization.


Because being pro-life isn't politically correct, of course. And most thought those pro-lifers got what they deserved.

Which brings us back to the case argued before the Supreme Court.

If RICO had been in effect back in the 1960s, segregation would have likely lasted much longer, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have ended up in the poor house.

If the court allows the lower court ruling to stand, civil disobedience will cease to be part of America's political culture.

That would be a tragedy.


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December 2002



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