8 U.S. senators press FBI’s Wray over memo targeting Catholics

By Around the Web

(Photo by Nick Castelli on Unsplash)
(Photo by Nick Castelli on Unsplash)

[Editor’s note: This story was published by The Daily Signal.]

By S.A. McCarthy
The Daily Signal

Eight members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published a letter last week to FBI Director Christopher Wray, giving him until Sept. 29 to explain how the Richmond, Virginia, field office crafted a memo detailing plans to unconstitutionally spy on American Catholics and to report what measures he and other FBI leadership are putting in place to ensure religious liberty is never threatened in this way again.

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, James Risch of Idaho, Susan Collins of Maine, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Jerry Moran of Kansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Mike Rounds of South Dakota wrote in their letter:

The mission of the FBI is “to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.” This memorandum and its underlying processes neither protect the American people, nor uphold the Constitution. The FBI does not exist to harass law-abiding Americans, nor will Congress permit FBI to do so.

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Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, commented to The Washington Stand, “I’m glad members of Congress are holding Director Wray accountable. This is exactly the congressional oversight that is needed as the Biden administration continues to weaponize U.S. agencies to serve its political agenda.”

The memo in question was leaked earlier this year from the FBI’s Richmond field office. Based on biased classifications from the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the report described “radical traditionalist Catholics” as potential “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” The memo laid out plans for the FBI to infiltrate and spy on American Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass, the form of the Mass used prior to the Second Vatican Council and which was promoted by the now-deceased Pope Benedict XVI. The SPLC classifies “radical traditionalist Catholics” as a hate group, placing them on its “hate list” alongside the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and “racist skinheads.”

In their letter, the Intelligence Committee senators wrote, “Not only did this memorandum make outrageous and sweeping generalizations about the Catholic faith and millions of Americans, but the memorandum also relies on wholly unsubstantiated news sources, a left-wing organization, and biased and partisan definitions of hate groups in the United States.”

Del Turco added, “It presents a serious challenge to religious freedom when the FBI operates on ill-informed and biased sources, which lead to unwarranted scrutiny of Catholic churches. It reeks of a larger misunderstanding of and intolerance for Christianity.”

Last month, documents provided to Congress revealed that the FBI’s attempts to spy on American Catholics weren’t limited to the Richmond office’s memo. In fact, the Richmond field office coordinated with other FBI offices across the country to develop a comprehensive plan of infiltration and espionage.

The Richmond office coordinated with field offices in Portland, Oregon, and in Los Angeles, where agents had already begun spying on Catholics. At the time, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote, “This new information suggests that the FBI’s use of its law enforcement capabilities to intrude on Americans’ First Amendment rights is more widespread than initially suspected … .”

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies to the Senate Nov. 17, 2022 (Video screenshot)
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies to the Senate Nov. 17, 2022 (Video screenshot)

The senators also pointed out that the documentary evidence seemingly contradicted Wray’s sworn testimony before Congress just weeks before, when he declared that no other FBI offices were involved in the creation of the Richmond memo.

Though controversial, the FBI’s targeting of American Catholics attending the Tridentine Mass appears not to be anomalous, but part of a broader push at the federal level to target Catholics and other Christians who adhere to a biblical worldview.

“Under Biden, we know what it looks like when government agencies overstep their bounds and appear to be motivated by a political agenda,” Del Turco explained. “A SWAT team went to the home of Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven and arrested him in front of his family before he was later acquitted. Republican members of Congress are right to focus on reining in these kinds of misuses of power.”

A Catholic, Houck was arrested last year when almost two dozen FBI agents armed with riot gear stormed his home for allegedly violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The pro-lifer was accused of shoving a Planned Parenthood employee outside a Pennsylvania abortion facility. In court later, it was shown that the Planned Parenthood employee had crossed the street to harass Houck, who only reacted when the employee began harassing Houck’s adolescent son. Houck was acquitted and is now running for Congress.

Other pro-lifers have also been targeted by the Department of Justice for alleged FACE Act violations, with several being jailed instantly upon conviction just three weeks ago after a Clinton-appointed judge classified the pro-lifers’ distribution of pamphlets as a “crime of violence.” Another judge ruled last month that LGBT and pornographic content in Maryland classrooms does not violate the religious liberty of concerned parents, going as far as to say that parents don’t even have the right to opt their children out of such course content.

The Intelligence Committee senators made it clear in their letter that they believe the FBI’s targeting of American Catholics is politically and ideologically motivated. They wrote, “Instances like this only serve to weaken the public’s faith in institutions critical to our nation’s security and safety.”

Originally published at WashingtonStand.com

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

[Editor’s note: This story was published by The Daily Signal.]

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