The following was posted on ProlifeFlorida.com, a now defunct website. We liked it so much we decided to highlight it as a “guest post.”
I received the following concerns and questions from an earnest pro-life person who asked the following questions in regards to a “residential picket” planned in the Central Florida area. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen or heard similar questions, so I’m going to attempt to answer them to the best of my ability.
- Could we be arrested or sued for being at the picket?
- Is it the picket itself that is illegal, location of standing, volume of voice, amount of signs, etc., or is it the potential of being arrested if we have different disruptive behavior above and beyond standing and holding signs within our legal limits?
- Do we have specific legal rights when it comes to picketing and what are they?
First, who am I to even answer these questions? I’ve been involved in over 50 residential pickets of abortionists and have seen all sorts of things. Although I’ve never been arrested for anything related to a residential picket, I was once sued by an abortionist in a (failed) attempt to have us stop picketing his home on a monthly basis. So, while many others have more experience and have had far more negative consequences for residential picketing, I’m hardly new at it, either.
What is residential picketing?
It’s a “catch-all” term that encompasses a variety of activities done at or near the home residence of an abortionist. Usually, it takes the form of a “neighborhood alert.” Considering that these men and women make their living destroying the lives of babies, it’s most often done for the purposes of alerting the neighborhood to keep their children away from such a monster. There’s also the side effect of making sure neighbors know who exactly is living nearby – and how they came to afford their residence (abortionists usually live in decent neighborhoods) – not by the same hard work and honest day’s pay that most people do, but by the exploitation of hurting women and the destruction of innocent life. In man cases, we also alert the neighborhood to the various law violations that most abortionists are involved in: lawsuits, criminal cases, medical malpractice complaints, and so forth.
These “alerts” can take many forms, but they most often take the form of a physical presence of pro-life people walking peacefully back and forth in front of the abortionist’s home and a few nearby homes, carrying signs to explain the reason for our presence, and sometimes quiet prayer against the forces of darkness present at that home. Sometimes the neighborhood is leafleted by a separate team. This leafleting is sometimes done by mail the day before, the day of, or a few days afterward. Sometimes it is done in conjunction with the picket (a few folks will break off and leave small flyers on the doors of a few neighbors – or even 100 nearby homes). In some gated neighborhoods, these alerts might take place outside the main entrance or closer to a main road where more residents and citizens might see it. Often, a team will place one group near or at the home, and another team near the main entrance.
In the years since I got involved doing residential pickets, first trained by my parents who had done them for years previously, I’ve had a few observations. I’d like to share them with you.
Residential picketing is not for everyone. There are excellent pro-life people working hard at different things: sidewalk counselors, CPC volunteers, media spokespeople, educational activists, post-abortion outreach ministries, adoption advisors, prayer “warriors,” and many professionals who spend a portion of their time and money assisting the pro-life movement: OB/GYN’s, attorneys, technology experts, investigators, and friends of the pro-life movement inside law enforcement.
Residential picketing does not make you “hard core.” Personally, I deplore the use of the word “hard core.” It wrongly implies that those involved with such an activity are doing the real work, while the others are somehow cowardly. Nothing could be further from the truth. To emphasize again the above point, it isn’t for everyone. And it isn’t for everyone every time. People come and go and move freely in and out of different activities as God wills. We need to recognize that and never think that we are doing the intense work. My mother volunteered at a CPC (among other things) for a number of years. To me, that is “hard core.” I could never sit and listen to an abortion-bound woman give her reasons for not wanting to keep a baby and then watch her walk out the door knowing she might call the local abortion clinic after everything she was just educated about. In my mind, it takes a very special person to be able to do that job week-in and week-out. My point is that one person’s “hard core” is another person’s calling. Personally, I find residential picketing rather easy and something I’m able to do and do effectively. But it would be just as foolish of me to expect others to think similarly as it would be for CPC counselors to expect me to be able to do the work God has gifted to them for that particular time and place.
There is an element of danger in residential picketing. The two most common dangers are being arrested (more on that in a minute) and being a victim of assault. I’ve seen abortionist’s, neighbors, and even neighborhood kids do all sorts of nutty things as a result of our presence. I’ve probably forgotten some incidents (conveniently), but cars running up on the sidewalk at us, rocks (and other objects) being thrown at us), being sprayed down by garden hoses, and just a general lack of hospitality (cursing, making false claims about our behavior, videotaping us while simultaneously attempting to bait us into an aggressive act, and other such tomfoolery). Pro-life activist Jill Stanek recently posted about the wife of an abortionist making menacing moves with her lawnmower as if she might try and “mow” some pro-life activist over. Your opinion may differ, but there’s video of that here. If you’ve been to an abortion clinic as part of a peaceful protest, you may have witnessed similar acts. At someone’s home, it can be even more intense. In other words, abortionists and their families really don’t like prolife activists at their home. There is certainly a higher risk of being injured than there would be just walking through your own neighborhood with a “Choose Life” sign. The danger is not something to get excited about. It’s something to avoid.
Be ready to leave at all times. After all the effort and planning and discovering an abortionist’s home, it can be hard to just “walk away.” But the important thing is to stay focused on the mission. You can always return. Things happen outside the best of plans. I’ll discuss “legal issues” more in a moment, but for now, just realize that if the leaders determine that it is best to leave, quietly gather your things (if allowed), and leave the area by the pre-planned method. There’s no benefit to arguing with on-site leadership, being a “lone wolf,” or drawing the local police into a legal showdown. There may be times for that, but often, the leaders of the event have assured some people they would do what they could to avoid anyone getting arrested or sued on that particular day. One hard-headed person can quickly jeapordize that.
A single picket is usually not worth the effort. For a residential picket to be effective, it needs to be ongoing. It is better to go more often in short 45 to 90 minute spurts, than to have a big blow-out event and never return. Often, the first time at a particular abortionist’s home is almost more of a “getting your feet wet” type of event. Usually, local police will have no idea how to deal with it. Neighbors will react more unpredictably than on later visits. It’s best to have a more long-term plan in place. Starting with several strong pickets a few weeks apart and then down-sizing to a more manageable once/month plan is reasonable. As time goes on, smaller groups of just three or four people can manage the entire picket. The key is to maintain a visible ongoing presence as a reminder. It doesn’t always have to be a full-blown media event.
It does not matter if the abortionist is at home. I’ve been with people who reacted visibly upset if they didn’t see the abortionist come out and throw a “hissy fit” about our presence there. It’s outside the behavior expected of a person with good character. Our purpose is to alert the neighborhood. The abortionist will hear about it later – trust me. Sometimes, it can be more unnerving to an abortionist to find out we were there while they were out of town on vacation. Who knows what goes on their twisted minds? Don’t even worry about it. Doing our “Christian duty” to be witnesses for the babies is the important thing.
Now, I’d like to take a moment to address the legal questions posed at the beginning. Keep in mind I’m not a lawyer or a legal expert. This is just my personal experience. The author of the question asks “Why” could we be arrested or sued. Unfortunately, and innocently enough, it is the wrong question to ask. Still, I’ll attempt to answer it. But first, any pro-life activist who engages in any type of “protest,” whether at an abortionist’s home, an abortion clinic, the Supreme Court steps, or anywhere else, is always potentially subject to arrest or being sued.
If you simply read through the archives at the websites of Jill Stanek, Operation Save America, Operation Rescue, Pro-Life Action League, and dozens of other “protest-oriented” groups, you’ll quickly pick up on a familiar pattern: pro-life activists get arrested and sued from time-to-time – not because they are wrong, breaking laws, or trampling on people’s rights – but because the enemy is determined to silence us at all costs. Google “residential picketing” for more things. Sometimes, these arrests and lawsuits go nowhere. Other than a night in jail or bit of hassle with paperwork, they go away as quickly as they come. Sometimes, pro-life activists are successful in using the false arrest to “turn the tables.” Sometimes, these things go on and on and on. Some famous pro-life activists have been sued into bankruptcy. All they had to do was quit and those “problems” would have gone away.
So the question isn’t “why,” because it implies there is some just reason that pro-life activists get sued or arrested. In many cases, there is none. It’s easy to become jaded against law enforcement when you see how often they get wrapped up in the issue too much to be objective. I’ve seen officers spend 30 minutes poring through a field handbook of statutes in order to find something to charge a pro-life activist with. In most states, there are plenty of laws that are vague enough to allow an officer to arrest you (without fear of reprisal of a “false arrest” lawsuit) if they really want to arrest you. Such laws as “disturbing the peace,” “failure to obey a direct order,” “loitering and prowling,” “stalking,” “failure to disperse,” and other such laws are always lingering in the mind of any officer when they get the feeling that you simply don’t respect them.
Whether or not you can later “get off” or “stick it to the man” is really beyond the scope of what I’m writing here. The purpose of a residential picket is to expose the evil of how a resident of a neighborhood makes his income. If you are asked to leave and you refuse, you could be arrested. If you are asked for identification and you refuse to provide it, you could be arrested. If you are told you are “disturbing the tranquillity” of a neighborhood, and you do not alter your behavior in accordance with the officer in charge, you could be arrested.
Secondarily, if your name becomes known, you could later be the target of a civil lawsuit. What will the lawsuit be about? It could be anything. There is no law preventing an abortionist from filing a lawsuit. It has been done and will continue to be done. Most likely, the number one reason they file lawsuits with little merit is because… they still work! They know it will keep a number of pro-life people away. Even if it dies in court later, they have still succeeded. It only costs $150 – $250 to file a lawsuit in most civil matters. It’s a good bargain as seen by the abortionist.
But these matters can have effects that reach beyond a simply night in jail or dealing with the paperwork from a frivolous lawsuit. Each person has to decide what their own risk level is on these matters. In the many residential pickets I’ve been on, I’ve only seen a few people threatened with arrest (and only one actually arrested who had plenty of opportunity to leave, but chose not to). I and three other people were sued by a disgruntled abortionist, alleging all sorts of nutty things. The suit went nowhere, but I had to “deal with it” for over two years (during which pickets continued). The suit in that case was a request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to keep us so many yards away from the abortionist and his home, grocery store, work place, etc. It was never granted, but could have been had the judge been biased. You never know. But other pro-life activists have been sued for money, sometimes successfully. In other words, no one can guarantee that no legal issues will come up. However, here are some tips to keep things to a “low roar.”
What Should Be Done
Educate the local police. Most threats of arrest come from police officers who are unaware of the constitutional issues surrounding residential picketing. It never hurts to go to the police department ahead of time and inform them. In almost all cases, they will ask you to get a permit (which is usually later denied), and in almost all cases, you do not need one. Permits are usually needed where traffic is impacted, amplification devices are used, or a crowd of an unusual size is expected (100+ people). Some cities will try and require a group to hire a an off-duty officer. This is not necessary and just a usual knee-jerk reaction since other more mainstream groups often do this sort of thing.
Have a few people who are leaders. If at least two people take charge (noticeably and publicly), and can assure law enforcement that “their people” are well-behaved, this eases the comfort level of local law enforcement. The last thing they want is a bunch of independent, head-strong, activists roaming all over a neighborhood and getting multiple calls for service from neighbors concerned about their “safety” (which is what any complaining neighbor will first allege). It can also prevent law enforcement for bothering to identify every person present if everyone is well-behaved, orderly, and peaceful. Lists of identification at these events almost always wind up in the hands of the abortionist and is the first step for a later lawsuit.
Assume that laws are not always on our side. To some degree, the law is always changing. There is a very real movement in this country to declare a person’s home some kind of “sanctuary” off-limits to any type of protest. This matter has come up recently in the protests at the BP Oil and AIG executive’s homes. In North Carolina, Rev. Flip Benham was convicted in 2011 of “stalking” under a new North Carolina statute aimed directly at pro-life protesters who specifically focus on abortionists. The law was passed specifically in response to pro-abortion forces in anticipation of Operation Save America’s 2010 national summer event held in Charlotte, NC. Benham received 24 months of probation and is naturally appealing the unconstitutionality of the law. Granted, being a national leader of pro-life protests, Flip is a target, and the law should be overturned upon appeal. Sometimes, it takes someone being arrested to get a law overturned. You can’t bring a law before a court as “unconstitutional” without having “standing”, and unless you’ve been at least threatened with arrest, you don’t have standing.
Have transportation planned. You can’t just have everyone show up in their own cars. That will be your first issue with the local police. You can’t just park all up and down the street. Often, you will have to park nearby in some large parking lot and carpool to the neighborhood. It’s best to pick-up and drop-off at the entrance to the neighborhood rather than directly near the abortionist’s house. One person needs to be a transportation person. Should the police require everyone to leave (albeit unjustly), people can quietly head toward the neighborhood entrance, while the transport person takes the first load back to the parking lot. This also allows a coordinated entry and exit plan. Having people come and go independently creates chaos. On pickets of 20+ people, it can make things very hectic and only add to the concern of law enforcement. While we are there for a legitimate purpose, that doesn’t entitle us to act like drunkards at a neighborhood SuperBowl party.
Have a media spokesperson ready. Sometimes, the media will show up. Have one, well-spoken, calm person who can rationally speak about why they are there. Others should know to be calm and quiet and not interrupt the media spokesperson, even to make corrections.
Walk in front of multiple residences. Do not just walk back-and-forth in front of the abortionists. Not only is there an important U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring this (1988 – Frisby v. Schultz), but it is important to spread out to make the message more effective. Go at least three houses in each direction.
Do not obstruct traffic. Give preference to all vehicular traffic. Not only is this the safe and courteous thing to do, but it is illegal to obstruct traffic. This also includes blocking residential driveways. As soon as it is apparent that a resident will be leaving their home, care should be taken to cease passing back and forth on their driveway. By way of courtesy, it is also important to allow residents easy access to street-side parking. They should not have to cut or weave between a flow of protesters to gain access to their vehicle. Keep a safe distance away so that there is no chance of anyone being falsely accused of assault (by “bumping” against a person).
Videotape and photograph the event. At least one person should have a standard video camera. This can come in handy if someone later claims a pro-life activist did something illegal. Be sure not to point the camera directly at people’s homes, in their windows, or at their children.
What Should Not Be Done
There are things that should not be done during a residential picket. These are generally frowned upon. It isn’t because they are necessarily illegal, but because we want to focus on a single purpose for being there. We avoid doing these things not because we are trying to endear ourselves to the neighbors, but because we want to keep the focus right where it needs to be: on the abortionist. Doing these things has a tendency to cause people to talk about these things after we leave, rather than the deeds of the abortionist.
Posting of leaflets on light poles, trees, etc. There’s no reason to dirty up the neighborhood – the abortionist is dirt enough. Let’s be good stewards and always clean-up after we leave.
Any shouting or spastic motions (such as frantic sign waving like you see for commercial businesses on roadsides).
Any use of noise-amplification devices (including simple cones or the cupping of hands). If a person wishes to engage in a conversation, it’s important that they approach you so that you can speak in a normal tone of voice. This differs from an abortion clinic for two key reasons: First, it is a residential neighborhood – not a commercial district. Second, no babies are dying today. There are no “patients” that need to be called out to.
Singing. I’ve been on only one residential picket where singing was done and it was pro-life people singing Christmas carols and then handing the abortionist “Christmas Cards” as they left singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The cards were hand-written pleas by pro-life activists for the abortionist to quit murdering babies and to give more children the chance for a Christmas. This was done at night. In most cases, however, singing is just as disruptive to a neighborhood as shouting out.
Do not bring or carry anything that could even remotely be considered a weapon, including inside your vehicle. This includes a hammer and screwdriver (for fixing signs), or a flashlight. If you bring a water (recommended), use a plastic bottle or a disposable cup. Do not bring one of those newer aluminum bottles.
Leaflets should be clearly written explaining why you are there. Do not make the leaflet look like a Wanted poster. Do not put any personally identifying information about the abortionist other than his name and address and where he works. Do not mention his family members, children, his date of birth and social security number, his favorite morning coffee shop, etc. Stay focused.
Do not carry any signs or slogans that could even remotley be considered a threat. Here it is better to err on the side of caution. Use the same priniciple here as in the above guidelines for leaflets.
The Future of Residential Picketing
After all the above, many people might conclude that the whole matter is too much trouble. While understandable, and without any real attempt here to persuade you otherwise, I do think residential picketing is important for three significant reasons.
- It works. Abortionists simply do not like people in their neighborhood knowing what they do. When you think about it, every other person who works in a “legal” occupation, with the sole exception of law enforcement, isn’t entitled to live in utter privacy and isolation. Abortionists like to believe they are a “special class” of citizens who can deceive neighbors into believing they are something else. Even though it is against the law to publish the home address of a law enforcement officer, most of their neighbors know they live there. They do not lie to their neighbors usually.
- It keeps the law moving in the right direction. Once we give up on the home front of abortionists, we are allowing them to declare an “off-limits” zone where they can take the blood money of their work to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” without being called to account for what they have done. In other words, it will further attract more evil-minded and greedy people to the abortion industry. Second, once established, abortionists will began to try and expand this “off-limits” zone to their abortion clinics, complicit hospitals, hazardous waste companies, medical supply companies, and on and on and on.
- It is the proud history of this country to not limit free speech. Abortionists believe they are victims (due to the deaths of a few of their colleagues and to their feeling “harassed” by being “champions” of women’s rights). Their “feelings” on the matter, however, are of no merit. If we start thinking like the abortionist, we forget the horrific weekly acts they are committing and agreeing (silently) that they “deserve” a safe harbor. If you think of the abortion “issue” as a “war” (and I believe it is in many respects), you quickly see the fallacy in this thinking.
An Illlustration from History
During the pre-revolutionary days in Massachusetts, it was standard fare for hundreds of colonists to surround a British commanders home at night, dressed sometimes in masks, and demand that the commander come out and sign a denouncement of his in-office duties previously committed. Imagine being in your home in 1770, your small children getting ready for bed, and you hear a knock on the door. Looking out your window, you see hundreds of small torches, farmer’s pitchforks, and several Boston citizens on your front porch. Your “backup” (the King’s army) is nowhere to be seen. It was common for these British commanders to agree with all the colonists demands (who wouldn’t?), only to retreat from the next day in office. Some of the commanders were threatened, some were tarred and feathered, some beaten. But most received this “welcoming committee” when they went afoul of the King’s charter. So, while I don’t in any way support a return to this ideals, I have to sometimes laugh when I hear abortionists whine about being “harassed.” They hardly know the meaning of the word. A few peaceful people picketing in front of your home during the day once a month for an hour or two as police officers sit nearby is hardly harassment.
Thoughts on Community Involvement
One final comment. America continues it’s slow spread of suburbia. More people live in cities that are so spread out that people on the north side have no affiliation with the south side. People live in neighborhoods with closed windows, hermetically-sealed homes, high-definition televisions blaring, and come home to an automatic garage-door opener. Much has been written recently on the topics of urban sprawl and the loss of community. My feeling on abortion runs similar to this. In a small town, “where everyone knows your name,” it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an abortionist to ply his trade there. But in larger cities, the false notion that you can live in the town and yet, not be present in the town, continues to spread.
Anonymous living is a peculiar way of life present only in larger communities.
It’s my firm belief that residential picketing in some way is a return to the values and harmonies of community-minded life. We hold the abortionist accountable by reminding him and the community of what is happening. We say uniformly in a small way that we refuse to allow anonymous evil to linger and profit in our community.
What I’ve found curious over the years is how many abortionists travel to big cities to kill babies and collect their cash, but often return to snug and quiet small communities to live. They enjoy the same sense of community at home that they deny to others to ever enjoy. They like the feel of being important and financially secure in their community and usually choose not to live in the same urban areas where they market their services. It’s not unusual for abortionists to be involved with local community non-profits and groups like Rotary – that is, until we let their community what they really do for a living.
The goal, of course, is not to get them kicked out of Toastmasters. It’s to plead with the abortionist that if they truly enjoy the comfort of a small community, that they do so with full honesty and sincerity. If they won’t declare the true nature of their work publicly, we are happy to do it for them.