FACE-Off over Free Speech

With the stroke of a pen, Bill Clinton may go down in history as the president who brought political persecution back to America. As Hillary Rodham Clinton flew off to South Africa to celebrate the end of oppression in that country, her husband is poised to begin a new era of political oppression right here at home. He's promised to sign the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as FACE, just passed by Congress. Let's be clear what this bill is about. It's not about punishing people who bomb abortion clinics or shoot abortionists. We already have laws that deal with those crimes. That part of the bill is redundant. No, the major impact of FACE is to punish political thought. For the first time since it passed the Fugitive Slave Act more than 100 years ago, Congress is making felons out of citizens who engage in nonviolent, peaceful civil disobedience. And FACE is no equal opportunity law. It would not apply to anti-nuclear protesters, animal-rights activists, environmentalists, or civil-rights demonstrators. It would apply only to people who protest at abortion clinics. Under FACE, prolife protesters who peacefully interfere with clinic access will receive six months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. And for subsequent offenses, 18 months in prison and fines up to $25,000. Compare that to the punishment meted out to other protesters. Just a few months ago, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Jesse Jackson, and others protested in favor of D.C. statehood by illegally blockading a busy Washington street, preventing tens of thousands of people from getting to their homes. Yet they were charged with a simple misdemeanor and sent on their way. And just a few weeks ago, six Democratic members of Congress were arrested while protesting U.S. policy toward Haiti at the White House gates. They, too, were briefly arrested, fined $50, and sent home in time for supper. And FACE isn't limited to criminal penalties, either. It also allows an abortion clinic to drag a protester into court under a civil action. And while FACE allows abortion clinics to collect attorneys' fees from prolifers, it forbids prolife defendants from recovering these same fees from abortion clinics—even if the lawsuit is shown to be frivolous. If this kind of legislation had been passed a few decades ago, Martin Luther King would have spent most of his life in jail: He was arrested 30 times for political protest. FACE is an outrageous attack on our free-speech rights. And, ironically, it's now on the desk of a president who spent his own youth protesting the Vietnam War. For Bill Clinton to sign this bill would be the ultimate in hypocrisy and the first big step on the road to tyranny. Now, I generally refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric. But this bill is one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation ever to come down the pike. By punishing some forms of political speech, this bill will criminalize political thought—something unimaginable to our Founding Fathers. The president has said he'll sign this law. But before he does he ought to hear from us. Please call or fax the White House today. Let the president know what you think about making political persecution the law of the land.


Chuck Colson


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