The Honorable Merrick B. Garland
Attorney General United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20530
The Honorable Christopher Wray
Director Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20535
Via Email and U.S. Mail
Re: Federal Bureau of Investigation Infiltrating Catholic Congregations
Dear Attorney General Garland and Director Wray:
We are the chief legal officers of our respective States charged not only with enforcing the law, but also with securing the civil rights of our citizens. We write with outrage and alarm to address the anti-Catholic internal memorandum produced by the FBI’s Richmond Field Office on January 23, 2023, which was released to the public this week.1 The FBI must immediately and unequivocally order agency personnel not to target Americans based on their religious beliefs and practices. We also demand that the FBI produce publicly all materials relating to the memorandum and its production.
There is no right more sacred to American democracy than the right to worship freely. We are horrified to learn that at least one field office of the FBI apparently does not agree with this proposition. Anti-Catholic bigotry appears to be festering in the FBI, and the Bureau is treating Catholics as potential terrorists because of their beliefs.
Suffice to say we are not persuaded by the FBI’s damage-control efforts. It assures us only that the FBI is embarrassed at the public revelation of the memorandum’s contents.
After defining which Catholics are the dangerous ones, the memorandum proposes dealing with those Catholics through “the development of sources with access,” including in “places of worship.”8 In other words, the memorandum proposes recruiting Catholics to enter a sacred house of worship, talk to their fellow Catholics, and report those conversations back to the FBI so that the federal government can keep tabs on the bad Catholics. To allocate these “sources,” the document includes an appendix with a list of Catholic “hate groups” that was assembled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),9 apparently without any independent vetting from the FBI.10
After the American public learned of the memorandum, the Bureau apparently emailed a smattering of reporters to inform them that “FBI Headquarters quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document.”11 The Bureau’s “action” occurred only in response to public outrage over the memorandum, which the FBI never intended the public to see at all. Had the memorandum not been revealed to the public, it might well still be an intelligence product available to the Bureau.
Suffice to say we are not persuaded by the FBI’s damage-control efforts. The FBI’s scrubbing of the document from its systems and the purported “review” of the process that created it in no way reassures us that this memorandum does not reflect a broader program of secretive surveillance of American Catholics or other religious adherents, and infiltration of their houses of worship. It assures us only that the FBI is embarrassed at the public revelation of the memorandum’s contents.
The memorandum’s targeting of Catholics because they prefer to pray in the ancient liturgical language of the Church, and the tactics it proposes for dealing with those Catholics, harkens back to some of the worst chapters of our past.
The memorandum’s targeting of Catholics because they prefer to pray in the ancient liturgical language of the Church, and the tactics it proposes for dealing with those Catholics, harkens back to some of the worst chapters of our past. This country has a sordid history of discrimination against Catholics. An entire political party, the Know Nothings, “formed in the 1850s to decrease the political influence of immigrants and Catholics”—groups that were often interchangeable given the rise of German and Irish immigration in the mid-19th century—and gained “hundreds of seats in Federal and State Government.”12
The targeting of Catholics for treatment as “violent extremists” because of the language in which they pray or because of the beliefs to which they subscribe is unacceptable, unconstitutional, and deeply un-American. It is particularly concerning that this memorandum originated in Virginia. Virginia is the birthplace of religious freedom in America and has a proud history of protecting the right to worship free from government interference or intimidation. Shortly after Independence, Virginia enacted Thomas Jefferson’s “Bill for establishing religious freedom” which decreed that “no man shall be . . . restrained, molested or burdened . . . or shall otherwise 11 Brittany Bernstein, FBI Retracts Memo on “Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology,” Says It Failed to Meet Bureau Standards, National Review (Feb. 9, 2023), tinyurl.com/2kz3jxkd. 12 Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Rev., 140 S. Ct. 2246, 2269 (2020) (Alito, J., concurring). 13 See Espinoza, 140 S. Ct. at 2259. 14 Ibid. (cleaned up). 15 Ibid. (cleaned up). 16 Id. at 2268–69 (Alito, J., concurring). 17 Josh Zeitz, When America Hated Catholics, Politico (Sept. 23, 2015), https://tinyurl.com/7xuuwpwy. 4 | Page suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief.”18 When the former colonies came together to draft the Bill of Rights, they included first and foremost that the new federal government could “make no law” which “prohibit[ed] [the] free exercise” of religion.19 That foundational protection of those beliefs nearest and dearest to persons of faith extends to all sincere beliefs, whether or not those beliefs may be considered “acceptable.”20
DOJ and the FBI must desist from investigating and surveilling Americans who have done nothing more than exercise their natural and constitutional right to practice their religion in a manner of their choosing. And they should reveal to the American public the extent to which they have engaged in such activities. We will take all lawful and appropriate means to protect the rights of our constituents as guaranteed by our Constitution.
To that end, we request that you respond to this letter by: (1) producing the full, unredacted January 23, 2023 FBI report to the undersigned Attorneys General; (2) producing any and all documentation used in drafting the report; (3) producing any and all documents implementing the report’s recommendations or interpreting the report’s conclusions; (4) providing a representative to present to the undersigned Attorneys General or their delegees a full and complete briefing of the process by which the report was drafted, an explanation of its conclusions, and the effect that is likely to be experienced by the Catholic populations of the undersigned’s States, and what efforts, if any, have been taken to ensure that the memorandum’s recommendations have not been, and will not be, implemented; and (5) providing information on whether the FBI has been adhering to its guidelines restricting the use of operatives to infiltrate houses of worship and if not, providing an explanation as to the extent of those activities and their constitutionality.
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