Report assesses threats to religious pro-life Americans following overturn of Roe v. Wade

Church vandalism Windows were smashed at St. Louise Catholic Church in Bellevue, Washington, on June 28, 2022. | Courtesy of Bellevue Police

A new report from the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) quantifies and analyzes the many reported incidents of violence against pro-life people and entities since May and offers recommendations for government officials on how to respond.

The RFI concluded that conditions remain in place for more attacks against pro-life entities and people to occur in 2022 and into 2023.

“As of late August 2022, perpetrators have attacked at least 63 pro-life organizations, across 26 states and the District of Columbia, since the Dobbs leak,” the Sept. 6 report says, referring to the May 2 leak of a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court indicating that the court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the question of abortion legalization to the states.

“Twenty-eight of the 63 pro-life organizations are religious. In the majority of organizations attacked, most of the staff and volunteers are motivated by religious convictions to do this work,” the report said. “While Christians have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement in the United States for decades, Jews, Muslims, and those of other religious traditions, as well as some atheists and agnostics, have made important contributions to the effort.”

This includes a large number of documented attacks on Catholic sites — at least one every three days on average since the May 2 leak, according to the RFI report.

According to data compiled by CNA, at least 32 Catholic churches in the United States have been vandalized with a clear pro-abortion motive since the May leak, along with at least 50 pro-life pregnancy centers. Taking a broader view, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has tracked some 164 total attacks against Catholic entities across 37 states and the District of Columbia since May 2020.

The majority of the attacks against Catholic entities since May 2020 have involved graffiti and property destruction, according to RFI’s analysis.

“The surge in attacks after the Dobbs leak is also notable in light of the Catholic Church’s consistent teachings through time on the inviolable dignity of unborn human life,” the report says.

Despite the large number of attacks, government officials and law enforcement have largely been silent on the threats, the report contends, leading to a “permissive” atmosphere in which more attacks, including cyberattacks, are likely to occur. One of the report’s authors told EWTN that if U.S. churches and pro-life organizations “have not been attacked yet, there’s a very high probability that they will be in the future. That was one of the key findings of the report.”

The RFI report bemoans an “almost non-existent public response from the Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and national media.”

“There was a time in America when if a church was attacked, a place of worship was attacked, a religious organization was attacked, people across the political, philosophical, and religious spectrum condemned it, government officials condemned it, and government authorities responded strongly,” Nathaniel Hurd, RFI’s director of the North America Action Team and senior fellow for public policy, told EWTN News Nightly Sept. 8.

“They investigated, they arrested, they prosecuted, they secured convictions. By contrast, we’ve seen this silence. And so it seems as if there’s a different standard for religious people who hold views that are not necessarily shared by the current administration,” he said.

RFI commissioned a former FBI counterterrorism and intelligence expert to assess the threat and provide recommendations. The report recommends that pro-life organizations devote more resources to security and security training for staff and volunteers, invest in relationships with law enforcement agencies, and step up their insurance.

The RFI report notes that many of the documented attacks may rise to the level of federal crimes, stating that it is a federal crime when anyone “intentionally obstructs, by force or threat of force, including by threat of force against religious real property, any person in the enjoyment of that person’s free exercise of religious beliefs, or attempts to do so.” Under the same federal statute it is also a crime when someone “intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property, or attempts to do so.”

The government has a responsibility to protect the public, regardless of their views on contentious issues, Hurd said.

“It is imperative that pro-life congregations and organizations, and responsible media outlets, take the current threat environment seriously and that government authorities act decisively to prevent, investigate, and prosecute criminal attacks against these institutions,” the report reads.

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“These crimes not only imperil American citizens, their institutions, their property, and, often, their life’s work,” the report continues. “When aimed at pro-life congregations and organizations motivated by religious conviction, they also constitute assaults on the inalienable right of religious freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

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