Justice Department urged to address violent attacks on pro-life centers

By Julie Asher 

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) – In a letter released June 16, a coalition of pro-life and faith leaders called on the U.S. Department of Justice to publicly condemn a growing number of attacks on churches, pregnancy resource centers and pro-life organizations over the abortion issue, "commit to vigorous efforts to prevent them, and to investigate and prosecute them."

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke was signed by about 30 leaders "representing millions of Americans."

The pro-life leaders acknowledged the FBI was "assisting at least one affected religious organization on this matter," and they said they were aware "through media reports" the agency was "at least investigating the firebombing" of a pro-life center in Madison, Wisconsin.

"However, the severity of the situation calls for your leadership," they wrote Garland and Clarke. "This continued assault on religious and pro-life groups because of their beliefs is a manifest injustice that requires prompt, comprehensive and public response."

They urged the Justice Department "to proactively engage with the affected faith communities to ensure their concerns and security needs are being met," and they requested a meeting with Garland's office as well as the department's Civil Rights Division "to discuss what plans are in the likelihood these attacks will intensify."

A day before the pro-life coalition released its letter, more than 100 House Republicans sent a similar letter to Garland, calling on the Justice Department to investigate these incidents "as acts of domestic terrorism."

In a response to the lawmakers' letter, the FBI issued a statement to news outlets June 16 saying the agency is investigating "a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations across the country.

"The FBI takes all threats seriously, and we continue to work closely with our law-enforcement partners and will remain vigilant to protect our communities," a spokesperson for the FBI's national press office told the Washington Examiner.

Citing a tally by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, their letter noted that, from May 2020 to October 2021, there were at least 100 incidents of arson, vandalism and other destruction at Catholic sites across the United States.

"In December of last year, the Department of Justice was asked how it was investigating the repeated attacks on churches in the United States," the letter said. "The attorney general was also asked to investigate those complaints and take appropriate action as is your duty. Since that request there has been public silence."

The pace of attacks has been stepped up to include pro-life centers as targets, it noted, since the May 2 publication of a leaked draft version of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Services case.

The draft suggested the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the court's 1973 decision which legalized abortion nationwide, in its ruling in the Dobbs case concerning a Mississippi ban on most abortions after six weeks. 

Like the Wisconsin pro-life center, a Keizer, Oregon, pro-life center has been firebombed "as well as a pregnancy care center in Buffalo, New York," they said. "Seventeen churches or pro-life organizations have been vandalized with pro-abortion or anti-religious slogans."

"Among those, a tiny Black Baptist church in rural Mississippi was spray-painted with depictions of rape; and four churches in Olympia, Washington, were vandalized on the same day with phrases like 'abort the church,'" it continued. "A recurring slogan has been: 'If abortions aren't safe, then neither are you.'

"Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of federal law," the letter continued. "And it has no more basic embodiment than the right to worship free from fear."