CV NEWS FEED // Several Republican senators pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland about bias, with many questions explicitly addressing whether anti-Catholicism motivated recent actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“The DOJ has announced charges against 34 individuals for blocking access to or vandalizing abortion clinics,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT. But there have been more than 81 reported attacks on pro-life groups, the senator pointed out, as well as 130 attacks on Catholic churches since May 2022. “And only two individuals have been charged” in connection with those pro-abortion attacks.”
“So how do you explain this disparity?” Lee asked Garland.
Garland began his response by stating that the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act “applies equally” to actions against abortion clinics and against pro-life clinics. He did not mention that the Act also protects churches from attacks.
Garland admitted that federal law enforcement has prosecuted more pro-life Americans than pro-abortion radicals. Why? Because pro-life advocates make no secret of their activities, while the criminals who have attacked pro-life groups did so under cover of darkness.
“I will say you’re quite right, there are many more prosecutions with respect to the blocking of the abortion centers, but that is generally because … those actions are taken with photography at the time, during the daylight, and seeing the person who did it is quite easy,” Garland said:
Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night, in the dark. …These people who are doing this are clever and are doing it in secret.
“What Garland doesn’t admit here is the obvious: the pro-abortion attacks on Catholic churches and Catholic-run pro-life groups are criminal (which is why they act in secret),” said CatholicVote President Brian Burch. “Pro-life activists are there during the middle of the day because they know what they are doing is legal and protected by the U.S. Constitution.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, reminded Garland of the many unprosecuted threats and illegal protests outside the homes of pro-life justices of the Supreme Court ahead of their decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson. “You sat on your hands” during these illegal activities, Cruz said to Garland. “You did nothing.”
Cruz mentioned a number of shocking actions which the Justice Department never prosecuted, including some that went much further than the (themselves illegal) rallies at justice’s private residents. Pro-abortion radicals published the locations where pro-life justices worshiped, including a Catholic church, and where their children attended school. Eventually, a man came armed to the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Catholic. The gunman admitted to law enforcement that he was outraged by Kavanaugh’s belief in the sanctity of life and had planned to kill him.
Cruz went on to address the case of Mark Houck, Catholic pro-life advocate, husband, and father of seven, whom the DOJ prosecuted under the FACE Act but who was later acquitted of all charges.
“If you’re a pro-life activist, what can you expect? Well, in this instance, according to Mr. Houck’s wife, two dozen agents clad in body armor and ballistic helmets and shields and a battering ram showed up at his house pointing rifles at his family,” Cruz said. “Do you want to apologize to Mrs. Houck and her seven children for being terrorized?”
Garland refused to acknowledge that the dramatic arrest had occurred in the way Mrs. Houck and her children have described it.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, also pressed Garland over the Houck case. “Why did the Justice Department do this?” Hawley asked. “Why did you send 20-to-30 SWAT-style agents and a SWAT-style team to this guy’s house when everybody else had declined to prosecute and he had offered to turn himself in?”
“Let’s take a look at these hardened criminals that your Justice Department sent these armed agents to go terrorize on that morning,” Hawley said later, displaying a picture of the Catholic family at church. “Here they are at Mass. Here’s the seven children with Mr. Houck and his wife in this early morning. They were all at home. Mrs. Houck has said repeatedly the children were screaming. They feared for their lives.”
Garland again disagreed with the Houck family’s own description of the FBI arrest.
Hawley went on to ask Garland directly: “Does your department have a problem with anti-Catholic bias?”
“Our department protects all religions and all ideologies, it does not have any bias against any religion of any kind,” Garland said.
Hawley then cited a leaked internal memo from the FBI Field Office in Richmond, VA, which suggested that traditionalist Catholics posed a potential domestic extremist threat and should be infiltrated and surveilled.
“Attorney General, are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin Mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country?” Hawley asked.
“The Justice Department does not do that, it does not do investigations based on religion,” Garland said. He added that he had seen the anti-Catholic FBI memo and found it “appalling.” “I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is now looking into how this could ever have happened,” Garland said.
Asked how the memo came about, Garland did not say, but only suggested the FBI was “looking into” it.
Hawley noted that the memo extensively cited the Southern Poverty Law Center, a disgraced leftist group that has labeled a number of Catholic organizations “hate groups.”
“Is this how the FBI, under your direction and leadership, is this how they do their intelligence work?” Hawley asked. “They look at left-wing advocacy groups, to target Catholics? Is this what’s going on? Clearly, it is. How is this happening?”
“The FBI is not targeting Catholics,” Garland said, calling the memo “inappropriate” and assuring Hawley “it doesn’t reflect the methods that the FBI is supposed to be using.”
“How many informants do you have in Catholic churches across America?” Hawley asked.
“I don’t know,” Garland answered:
And I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches. We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity, and Catholic churches are obviously First Amendment activity. I don’t know the specific answer.
Hawley replied: “You don’t know the specifics of anything, it seems. But apparently on your watch this Justice Department is targeting Catholics, targeting people of faith, specifically for their faith views. And Mr. Attorney General, I’ll just say to you, it’s a disgrace.”
CatholicVote’s Burch was unimpressed with Garland’s answers.
“During the hearing, it was clear Garland was uncomfortable and defensive. There is no defense for the obvious pro-abortion, anti-Catholic bias of his Department,” Burch said, noting that “when pressed on the leaked FBI memo which showed a field office targeting ‘radical-traditionalist Catholics,’ Garland was forced to concede this was unacceptable and a violation of FBI policy.”
Burch promised that CatholicVote will continue to keep track “of every attack on Catholic churches and pro-life clinics” in CatholicVote’s running violence trackers, which have recorded 81 attacks on pro-life groups and 130 attacks on Catholic churches since May 2022.
“We’re keeping a record of the refusal of the FBI and DOJ to take action to protect pro-life Americans – especially faithful Catholics,” Burch said. “We’re working directly with Congressional staff to ensure that they do not let up.”
Catholics “should not be treated like second-class citizens because we’re pro-life or because we’re faithful Catholics,” Burch concluded.