Arrested pro-life activist Mark Houck victim of religious discrimination, lawyers say

houck family Mark Houck with his children | Credit: Thomas More Society

Attorneys for Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven arrested by the FBI in the early morning hours outside his Pennsylvania home in September, have filed a motion in court to dismiss the federal charges brought against him under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

The motion says that the U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution of Houck is unconstitutional, citing the Biden administration’s “viewpoint discrimination” and “selective prosecution” against Houck and other Americans with pro-life views.

The more than 30-page motion alleges that the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment in its prosecution of Houck.

As part of the motion, lawyers from the Thomas More Society — the religious freedom law firm representing Houck — say that the FACE Act, which has been used several times in the past year by the Biden administration against other pro-life advocates, is unconstitutional.

“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,” Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen told CNA Thursday.

“Instead, you’ve got the U.S. government coming after Mark Houck, even though he went through the local court system, and the case was dismissed against him,” Breen said.

Houck was arrested in September by agents outside his home in Kintnersville in Bucks County while his wife and children looked on. He was charged under the FACE Act the same day, after a federal indictment alleged that he assaulted a Planned Parenthood clinic escort in October 2021. A local case against him was dismissed because the plaintiff never showed up at court, a former spokesman for Houck told CNA.

Breen contends that Houck was just defending his son, who was being harassed by a clinic escort. Breen told CNA that witness testimony and video evidence supports his claim. Neither as of yet is available to the public, he said.

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 FACE Act “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 Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Violating the FACE Act is a federal crime and 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,” according to the DOJ.

“We note that the pro-life viewpoint is a religiously based viewpoint on the part of Mark Houck. So it’s an infringement on his religious rights to target him in this way,” Breen said. 

Breen said that the government’s response to the motion is due Dec. 16. 

“What we are really doing here — in a way that no one else has been able to do — is to put the Biden administration on trial,” Breen said. 

The motion says that “the indisputable evidence shows that the government, under the Biden administration, has engaged in an overt pattern of aggressive enforcement of FACE against pro-life individuals while turning a blind eye to blatant violations by pro-abortion individuals.” The full motion can be read here.

“When the DOJ sent 25 agents to Mark Houck’s door, sidewalk counselors across the country heard the message. There was a message of intimidation. There was a message intended to strike fear in the hearts of sidewalk counselors across the country,” Breen told CNA.

“Why is it that they have sat silent and just been impotent in dealing with the incredible violence and vandalism that’s occurred at pro-life pregnancy centers and churches?”

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“We know full well that if over 150 abortion clinics had been vandalized or damaged in that way, you would have scores of people under arrest right now,” he said.

Dozens of pro-abortion attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers have occurred in the anticipation and aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. The 1973 landmark case federally legalized abortion across the nation.

Breen said that the motion is “the first significant legal attack” on the FACE Act since Roe was overturned in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.

Houck’s trial is set for Jan. 24, 2023, at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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