Republican Senators Grill AG Garland Over Anti-Catholic Bias

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PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Attorney General Merrick Garland faced some harsh questioning from Republican lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The senators were questioning whether the Justice Department led by Garland had an anti-Catholic, anti-pro-life bias when it came to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s methods.

The attorney general labeled a now-retracted Richmond FBI memo that suggested investigating traditionalist Catholics for possible ties to domestic terrorists “appalling.”

A riled Garland defended the DOJ and its agencies during heated exchanges with Republicans over whether federal agencies are biased against the pro-life movement in their enforcement of federal laws.

In response to questioning from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, Garland denounced the FBI’s Richmond division’s memo, which defined a strategy to investigate a link between “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” and “the far-right white nationalist movement.”

The FBI memo laid out how to investigate Catholic parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass and certain Catholic online communities. The document cited a list from the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine which organizations adhere to “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology.”

Hawley asked Garland whether the Department of Justice is “cultivating sources and spies in Latin Mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country.”

“The Justice Department does not do that,” Garland said. “It does not do investigations based on religion. I saw the document you have. It’s appalling. It’s appalling. I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it, and it’s now looking into how this could ever have happened.”

Hawley pressed the issue further, asking Garland how many informants the FBI has in Catholic churches.

“I don’t know, and I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic Churches,” Garland responded. “We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity, and Catholic churches are obviously First Amendment activity. But I don’t know the specific answer to that question.”

Hawley criticized Garland for not providing a definitive answer to the question.

“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,” Hawley said. “And Mr. Attorney General, I’ll just say to you, it’s a disgrace.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked Garland to account for a disparity in the number of prosecutions of pro-life activists and pro-abortion activists under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The FACE Act made it a federal crime to impede access to a pro-life pregnancy center or abortion clinic.

Lee told the attorney general that there have been 81 reported attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers “and only two individuals have been charged” with violating the FACE Act. Meanwhile, he said, 34 pro-life activists have been charged for blocking access to or vandalizing abortion clinics.

“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 responded.

“Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark,” he said. “We have put full resources into this. We have put rewards out for this.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also cited discrepancies in FACE prosecutions that evoked the FBI’s arrest of Mark Houck, a pro-life activist charged by the FBI for allegedly violating the FACE Act, but acquitted on all counts.

“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.

Garland responded by stating, “the decisions about how to do that are made at the level of the FBI agents on the scene” and “my understanding is the FBI disagrees with that description.”