Wednesday, August 17, 2011

President Obama's Justice Department goes after 79-year-old sidewalk counselor

The National Review has an article by Hans von Spakovsky which discusses the U.S. Justice Department's attempt to prosecute 79-year-old sidewalk counselor Richard Retta. Retta is a sidewalk counselor in the Washington, D.C. area who attempts to persuade women going into a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic to choose life for their unborn children.

Obama’s DOJ claims that Retta’s sidewalk counseling violates the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, enacted by Congress in 1994. In a July 2011 complaint, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division says that Retta violated federal law because he “walks very closely beside patients” as they enter the clinic. It also claims that Retta follows them when they leave.

But FACE permits Retta to walk beside patients, coming or going, on a public sidewalk. And the First Amendment protects his right to speak to them. In fact, the FACE Act (18 U.S.C. § 248) forbids only physical obstruction, intimidation, or the use or threat of force. The FACE Act protects the activity that Retta engaged in: The statute specifically states that it does not “prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration).”


Retta was shocked to learn that DOJ had brought charges against him. The department’s doubtful claim is also brought into question by Retta’s history. He doesn’t just counsel women on the sidewalks about the tragic consequences of abortion; he has also taught sidewalk-counseling classes for about a decade.

He prints a homemade, 22-page training manual that teaches volunteers how to conduct themselves. Item number two on his list of “don’ts”: “DO NOT block the woman’s path.”