In a sweeping defeat for Obama-era holdovers at the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal court has tossed out a case in which the department had subpoenaed a Christian pastor’s views on Islam.
The Islamic Center of Culpeper, Virginia, had already won a favorable settlement in its Obama-aided case against the city, which agreed to provide a permit for the mosque to pump sewage from a site where it wants to build a mosque, even though state environmental officials had said the site was not suitable for a septic system.
But that wasn’t enough for the lawyers who staff the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. They wanted to make an example out of rural Culpeper County. How else to explain forcing a local pastor and other locals who spoke against the mosque at public hearings to turn over personal documents that would reveal their views on Islam?
Pastor Steve Harrelson of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church was the main target in the sights of the DOJ, which sought to bring him before an inquisition-type hearing, forcing him to testify about his opinions on Islam and also deliver up to the government his personal papers and documents.
But U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon put an end to the witch hunt for “Islamophobes” in this small northern Virginia town that was being perpetuated by Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys.
Moon ruled the case was moot because the mosque had already settled with Culpeper County, PJ Media reported.
Judge Moon wrote:
Taken together, the Government’s additional measures are marginal quibbles that overlook the forest for the trees. They are based on a presumption of bad faith by the County, a presumption supported by little more than bald assertions and which the County has overcome with compelling and unimpeached evidence.
Attorney Karen Lugo, author of “Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight” and an expert on the Religious Land-Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, said the DOJ subpoena of the pastor’s papers represented a “raw abuse of power.”
“The DOJ tried to invade both the protected zones of belief and expression when it subpoenaed a pastor’s personal and private records. A concerned citizen was also served the same subpoena. Both were given just days to gather voluminous records before being grilled at a deposition. The entire raw abuse of power cannot be forgotten.”
Lugo recently penned an op-ed for American Greatness in which she argues the U.S. Justice Department has an ingrained policy of favoring mosques in disputes with local zoning boards and councils. She says the atmosphere of DOJ intimidation cannot be overstated.
“Alarmingly, these interventions reveal a pattern of generous settlements that benefit mosques while bypassing municipal laws and disregarding legitimate neighborhood concerns,” she wrote. “During the Obama presidency, DOJ lawyers ran roughshod over local officials, as long as the complaining party was a mosque. Trump’s Justice Department must reverse these tendencies.”
The DOJ has to learn that the public is aware of this overreach and will not tolerate it, said William Federer, an expert on American history. If the DOJ is not reined in by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Federer sees a bleak future ahead.
Federer, author of multiple books including “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance No Longer Tolerates Religion,” said the U.S. “is moving in the direction of Orwell’s thought police.”
“What is next, Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition, the British Crown’s Star Chamber, Lenin’s Cheka?” he told WND in an email.
He said religious freedom and freedom of conscience were the primary reasons why settlers fled to America, “so they would not have to fear this type of government intimidation.”
“Is the DOJ going to subpoena imams to find their views on Christianity and Judaism?” he asks.
He said conservatives pushed through the Religious Freedom Restorations Act in 1993 with the intention of prohibiting government from this exact behavior.
“Do Trump and Sessions know this is going on? Certainly this cannot be their agenda?” he said. “If this is allowed now, what can we expect next?”
He also questioned the silence of GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Shouldn’t they be calling for an investigation of this out-of-control branch of the DOJ?”
He cited Thomas Jefferson’s reply to the Danbury Baptists, Jan. 1, 1802:
“Religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.”
Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Liberty Jan. 16, 1786 stated:
“No man shall be … molested … on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”
He said the federal government has come a long way since Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who was appointed by James Madison, authored in 1840 “A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States”:
“At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship.
“An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation …
“The rights of conscience are, indeed, beyond the just reach of any human power. They are given by God, and cannot be encroached upon by human authority without a criminal disobedience of the precepts of natural as well as of revealed religion.
“The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance MOHAMMEDANISM, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”