President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has demonstrated a pattern of selectively enforcing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act against pro-life individuals, attorneys representing indicted pro-life activists argue in new court filings.
That selective enforcement violates the First Amendment, according to the court documents filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The case pertains to the DOJ’s indictment of 11 pro-life individuals, including Paul Vaughn, who took part in a “in a clinic blockade” at a Tennessee abortion clinic in March 2021.
Attorneys with the Thomas More Society argue that the indictment of the 11 pro-life activists should be dismissed on the grounds of selective prosecution, claiming that the FACE Act is an unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech that violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the free exercise clause.
“Defendants submit that the Government has engaged in selective and/or vindictive prosecution motivated by an intent to punish Defendants for the content of their viewpoints and their protected expressions thus making this case an unconstitutional application of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act,” the filing says.
It continues: “In addition, FACE is an unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech; as applied, it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; and this Court lacks jurisdiction because, especially after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, FACE is an invalid exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority.”
The filing also points out that the DOJ hauled Vaughn “and ten other defendants into court for a single alleged nonviolent violation” of the FACE Act “with over 170 uncharged incidents of destruction and vandalism at pro-life centers and churches across the country.”
“The DOJ has demonstrated clear and illegal hostility toward the pro-life viewpoint in its statements and enforcement decisions, running roughshod over fundamental religious freedoms and free speech rights, and bringing an illegal selective prosecution here,” the filing says.
The court filing repeatedly cites The Daily Signal’s report examining Kristen Clarke, the DOJ’s assistant attorney general for civil rights who oversees the prosecution of the FACE Act and is openly hostile to pregnancy centers. The filing also cites The Daily Signal’s report on Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan launching a congressional inquiry into the FBI’s raid on Mark Houck.
In October, shortly after the high-profile arrest of pro-life activist Houck, the FBI arrested Vaughn at his home in front of his children. The DOJ charged Vaughn, a pro-life father of 11 children, alongside 11 other individuals, with violating the FACE Act.
Vaughn, with Chester Gallagher, Heather Idoni, Calvin Zastrow, Coleman Boyd, Caroline Davis, Dennis Green, Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, James Zastrow, and Paul Place, “engaged in a conspiracy to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services.”
“If convicted of the offenses, the seven conspiracy defendants each face up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of up to $350,000,” the DOJ said in a release. “The remaining five defendants face a year in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of up to $10,000.”
Vaughn expressed strong gratitude for the Thomas Moore Society to The Daily Signal and emphasized that the DOJ appears to have knowingly targeted pro-lifers without proper cause.
“The legal team highlighted the injustice being perpetrated against the 11 of us in this case and did a great job pointing out the selective prosecution of pro-lifers while the many crimes against churches and pro-life institutions have been ignored,” he said. “This unjust action continues as more pro-life indictments were handed down on March 4th.”
Vaughn added that the jury that quickly declared Houck not guilty “sent a strong rebuke to the DOJ and the aggressive FBI tactics,” calling the case “unjust and unwarranted from the beginning.”
“In a very real and tangible way, the process is the punishment,” he said. “When my privacy has been shattered by an early morning raid and I have been arrested in front of my children it does not matter if I am actually guilty or not. When my life has been violated by an evil and overreaching government it doesn’t matter if I’m found innocent later.”
“The blow against the pro-life position I hold has already been struck long before the court case gets decided,” Vaughn said. “It appears the primary motive is to terrorize my family, my friends, business associates, and any other person who holds a pro-life position.”
Vaughn previously told The Daily Signal that the FBI came to the door of his home, “guns pointed at the door, banging on the house, yelling and screaming, ‘Open up. FBI,’ that kind of thing. When I opened the door and saw the guns pointed at me, I asked them what they wanted, who they were looking for, and they said they wanted me.”
“I had kids in the yard walking out to get in the car to go to school, I was about to take them to school, and other kids in the house,” he continued. “So seeing that the easiest path to de-escalation was me in handcuffs, I stepped outside and put an end to the ranting and the banging and the yelling.”
After the FBI put him in handcuffs and in the car, he said, his wife came outside. She had been in the back of the house with their 18-month-old baby.
Video provided to The Daily Signal by Vaughn, taken by his wife, shows FBI agents outside the family’s home. Vaughn’s wife follows them, videotaping their conversation.
“I wanna know why you were banging on my door with a gun,” she says. “Are you not going to tell me anything?”
“No, we are not,” one agent replies, while another adds, “I tried.”
“No, you didn’t!” she shouts back. “You did not try.”
“I believe the majority of the Christians currently being prosecuted by the DOJ, in our case and others, would agree we are outraged and upset our own government would treat us in such a shameful manner,” Vaughn shared in March. “However, most would be willing to embrace that persecution if it meant that abortion stopped in this country.”
“Of course, our hope is the court will find justice for both the defendants and the unborn,” he added. “But a pro-life Christian is one who is willing to lay down his or her own life so that another may live. That is and always has been the heart of what it means to be pro-life. In this, we would be following the example of Christ when He laid down His own life on the cross so that we may live.”
Vaughn emphasized that “the unborn child is a very binary and definitive subject.”
“Either they are human and worthy of protection at all stages, or we are all subject to the arbitrary will of our government,” he said. “The Western Christian needs to understand the depth of this struggle. It is my hope that our small case might help to shed light on the weakness of the American church and that she might repent and become the bride she is called to be.”
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.