FBI and DOJ Memo Sparks Concerns of Religious Discrimination
In February 2023, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and 19 GOP state attorneys general wrote a letter to the FBI and DOJ expressing concerns over a memo that revealed government law enforcement agencies were treating Catholics as “potential terrorists.” The memo listed multiple potential Catholic hate/extremist groups, including those that were faith-based and had no violent history or intent. Miyares and his colleagues demanded that the FBI and DOJ cease investigating and surveilling Americans based solely on their religious beliefs and practices. The attorneys general also called for the agencies to reveal the extent of their activities.
Religious Freedom Under Threat by the FBI
The United States Constitution guarantees American citizens religious freedom, which includes the right to practice their religion in a manner of their choosing. However, the FBI and DOJ have a history of using their powers to trample on these rights. Miyares pointed out the discrimination Muslim Americans faced following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. The letter from the attorney general highlighted that the FBI was treating Catholics as potential terrorists because of their beliefs. The attorneys general affirmed their commitment to securing the civil rights of their constituents, calling on the FBI to order its personnel not to target Americans based on their religious beliefs.
FBI Documents Show Plans to Monitor Churches
Internal documents obtained by House Judiciary Committee members Jim Jordan and Mike Johnson suggest that the FBI aimed to develop sources inside Christian churches and Catholic dioceses to combat domestic terrorism. The documents showed the agency’s intention to use churches as new avenues for tripwire and source development, with a specific focus on mainline Catholic parishes. The FBI also aimed to sensitize religious congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires.
Subpoena and Outrage from Judiciary Committee
Jordan issued a subpoena for related documents the committee previously requested from the FBI but failed to provide. Jordan criticized the FBI’s efforts, insisting that Americans must be free to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights without worrying about the FBI planting so-called “tripwire” sources or other informants in their houses of worship. Jordan suggested that the FBI may be targeting Catholics who attend Latin Mass, and that they rely on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis. Jordan proposed that FBI agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith.
Jordan wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray:
“This information is outrageous and only reinforces the Committee’s need for all FBI material responsive to our request… The documents produced to date show how the FBI sought to enlist Catholic houses of worship as potential sources to monitor and report on their parishioners.”
“Americans attend church to worship and congregate for their spiritual and personal betterment… They must be free to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights without worrying that the FBI may have planted so-called “tripwire” sources or other informants in their houses of worship.”
FBI Response and Commitment to Congressional Oversight
The FBI responded to the subpoena, recognizing the importance of congressional oversight and its commitment to cooperating with Congress’s oversight requests. FBI Director Christopher Wray made recent comments during congressional testimony, stating that he was “aghast” when he saw reports about the FBI targeting Catholics.