WASHINGTON (BP)–When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to accept his case, Southern Baptist pastor Michael Cloer was surprised and saddened. The justices’ decision made no sense to him, but it also did not keep him from continuing his longtime efforts on behalf of unborn children and their mothers.
The high court recently announced it would not review a South Carolina Supreme Court opinion that upheld a court injunction severely restricting Cloer and others from preaching, praying and taking part in other pro-life activities on the public sidewalk outside a Greenville, S.C., abortion clinic. It let stand a lower court’s decision that Cloer, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church, Easley, S.C., and other pastors were guilty of conspiring against the clinic.
The court’s injunction also stayed in force. It prevents pro-lifers from gathering on the sidewalk within 12 feet of the driveway to the clinic and restricts them from making any noise that could be heard inside the clinic.
The justices’ action brought an end to the five-plus-year history of a case known to the high court as Michael Cloer and Pastors for Life v. Gynecology Clinic, but not without dissenting voices being raised.
Although about 400 appeals were denied Jan. 10, Cloer’s was one of only two in which a Supreme Court justice dissented in writing. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, said the high court should accept the case to consider the state supreme court’s “novel civil-conspiracy doctrine that places routine, lawful First Amendment activity” under the threat of both financial liability and injunction. Four justices must agree for an appeal to be accepted.
The case is a “terrifying deterrent to legitimate, peaceful First Amendment activity” because the state supreme court’s affirmation of the lower court “did not rest upon its determination that there was adequate evidence of unlawful activity,” Scalia wrote.
“This extraordinary application of state civil-conspiracy law to attempts to persuade persons not to patronize certain businesses would outlaw many activities long thought to be protected by the First Amendment — routine picketing by striking unions, for example, and the civil-rights boycotts directed against businesses with segregated lunch counters in the 1960s.”
The state supreme court’s decision to allow the pro-life activity at a certain distance produced an illogical result, Scalia said. “If seeking to harm an abortion clinic’s business through persuasion is indeed unlawful in South Carolina, why does the injunction permit such harm so long as it is inflicted at a distance of 12 feet from the driveway?” Scalia wrote.
Cloer agreed. “It would be as if our state could file conspiracy charges” against the NAACP for its promotion of a boycott of South Carolina because the Confederate flag flies above the state capitol, he said. Both Pastors for Life and the NAACP “are trying to discourage business in order to try to get their point — the truth — across,” Cloer told Baptist Press.
Despite his disappointment, Cloer and others were back at the abortion clinic the following weekend. They again obeyed the court’s order while praying and seeking to gain a hearing with women seeking abortions. Three women heeded their message. They “turned back and came and told us they decided to keep their babies,” Cloer said. Those women will utilize the crisis pregnancy center located next door to the abortion clinic in a former beauty shop purchased by Pastors for Life, he said.
Abortion had been a “burden on my heart” since it was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973, Cloer said, but his pro-life activism took a new turn in early 1994.
Pastors for Life began as a result of a group of pastors praying for several days about the issue, he said. The pastors “believed our war was spiritual, and therefore our weapons had to be spiritual weapons,” Cloer said. The weapons they chose were preaching, praying and praising.
Beginning in January 1994, churches involved would accept responsibility for a one-hour period at the clinic on Saturdays. The choir and orchestra from his church went to the clinic, Cloer said. “Inevitably,” God would “break our hearts,” he said. At times, 800 pro-lifers would be outside the clinic, praying to and praising God and listening to someone preach, Cloer said.
The number of abortions declined rapidly, according to health department statistics, Cloer said. The clinic went to court, where a temporary restraining order was granted in August 1994. In 1996, it became permanent.
Despite the court-ordered restrictions, 40 to 50 people still gather at the clinic each weekend, Cloer said. They have to stay 12 feet from the clinic’s property, even when they are on the property of the crisis pregnancy center owned by Pastors for Life, he said. Yet, God has produced fruit from their outreach, not only in a growing crisis pregnancy ministry but in people coming into his kingdom.
“The whole purpose we’re out there is not just to stop abortion but to win people to Christ,” Cloer said. Those who have become followers of Jesus since the lawsuit was brought include a former receptionist at the clinic and a former clinic security guard “who had us arrested,” he said.
Years of pro-life ministry have brought a change in perspective for him, Cloer said.
“I was discouraged at one point because I actually [had] thought we were going to stop [abortion,],” he said. Now he is not so much trying to end abortion but to “rescue sinners,” Cloer said. “From now till Jesus comes, if we can get one person to turn from the error of their ways it’s a success.”