BOWIE – The Rev. Michael Bray is pacing, talking to one reporter on the telephone while waving to another who has come to interview him here in his modest two-story suburban home.
A photographer has just left. When Bray is not on the phone, his ninth-grade daughter is fielding press calls for her father. He spends a little more than an hour, meanwhile, talking about his fight against abortion providers — “baby butchers,” as he likes to call them.
Despite being on the losing end of a $107 million lawsuit last week, Michael Bray won’t shut up.
“This is an egregious assault on free speech,” Bray said of the decision rendered Tuesday by a federal jury in Oregon. “You have people dramatically making one simple point: Murdering babies is wrong.”
But doctors and family planning groups that filed the suit said Bray and 13 co-defendants were doing more than dramatically making a point. They said the anti-abortion defendants were threatening the lives of doctors and their families with speech that bordered on “domestic terrorism.”
“The jury found this was violence and terrorism. It’s designed to incite fear and harm doctors,” said Roberta Geidner- Antoniotti, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
Geidner-Antoniotti referred specifically to an anti-abortion Internet site, “The Nuremberg Files,” that lists names and other information on doctors who perform abortions. The name of Dr. Barnett Slepian was crossed off the list after he was murdered in his New York home, she noted.
Bray disavows any links to the web site. But Bray — whose own anti-abortion history includes jail time for burning clinics as well as books and songs urging the “execution of abortionists” — said there’s nothing wrong with collecting information on abortion providers for the day when they are “brought to justice.”
“It’s not in my taste, not something I would do,” Bray said of the Nuremberg Files. “But he has every right to have it up there.”
Bray’s taste in anti-abortion rhetoric runs right up to the edge of violence. He says he himself has never received the call to “terminate an unwanted abortionist,” but that anyone might ethically do so.
The unrepentant reverend, who leads an independent Lutheran congregation of seven families in the Bowie area, did a four-year prison stint in the 1980s for bombing abortion clinics.
“Anyone who has already demonstrated that they’re willing to commit violence is a threat to all of us,” Geidner-Antoniotti said of Bray.
Bray hosts an annual banquet honoring those who kill abortion providers. He says he longs for the day when abortion is outlawed so that the abortion doctors can be tried and executed and their murderers who are in jail now can be liberated.
His book, “A Time to Kill,” defends the killing of doctors who perform abortions. He wrote “50 Ways to Save a Baby” — a spoof of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” — a song that includes lines like “shoot up the wall, Paul” and “get yourself three,” which Bray says means getting three doctors.
The battered vans outside his Bowie home are covered with anti-abortion bumper stickers, including some that read “Execute Murderers, Abortionists.”
But those bumper stickers are the only outward sign of the strident abortion foe who lives inside the modest home on Tarragon Lane. The house is cluttered with the books and paraphernalia of the Brays’ 10 children, who are home-schooled.
Charming in person, amiable and eager to answer questions, Bray does not seem like a man who has done time for a clinic bombing or whose fiery speech has landed him at the losing end of a lawsuit. He leans in and smiles as he answers questions, his glasses perched on the end of his nose.
Bray, 46, is tall and lean and animated. His voice varies from tempered to outraged as he preaches the ethical integrity of the message that has earned him notoriety.
He interrupts any question that has the terms doctor or abortion to correct them to “baby butchers” and “committing murder.” In Bray’s lexicon, murder of an abortion provider becomes either “execution” or “termination of an unwanted abortionist.”
He acknowledges that his language is strong and he is not concerned that some doctors may be frightened by it. In fact, he hopes that they live in fear — for themselves and their families — enough fear that they quit.
Fear of anti-abortion radicals like himself or fear of the lord, it’s all the same to Bray, so long as it serves to save the doctors’ souls. And, more importantly in Bray’s eyes, “to save the babies they slaughter.”
Bray, who makes his living preaching, teaching and painting houses, said that even if he had the assets to pay his share of the $107 million Oregon judgment, he will never give money to “baby butchers.”
Besides, he says, the case is not really about money. It’s about discouraging free speech.
An attorney with the American Catholic Lawyers Association agreed that the Oregon decision has created a “free speech ghetto for pro-lifers.
“It puts them on the back of the constitutional bus,” said Chris Ferrara, one of several attorneys representing the defendants in the Oregon case. “Everyone — especially liberals – – should be scared by this.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said it has “mixed feelings” about the verdict. Executive Director David Fidanque said that, while there is no protection for threatening speech, the ACLU does not want this verdict to have a chilling effect on protected political speech.
Bray said he was turned down when he approached the ACLU’s national office about defending him and his co-defendants. But Fidanque says the ACLU has “gone to bat” for pro-life groups in the past and may jump in if the court adopts an “overly broad” injunction against the Nuremberg Files web site.
“We’re trying our best to call them as we see them,” Fidanque said. “We haven’t backed away from our defense of free speech one inch.”
But pro-choice groups say that violent speech like Bray’s should not be protected. It is tantamount to yelling fire in a crowded theater, they say.
One Maryland doctor, who was recently listed on the Nuremberg Files site, said it is “definitely not free speech, especially when people get hurt.”
The doctor, who asked that he not be identified, said he was disgusted by the fact that anti-abortion radicals like Bray “rejoice at these (doctors’) deaths and call themselves Christians.”
“They can’t have it both ways,” he said.