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Ted Cruz and Mike Lee: Justice Department Prefers Abortion Clinics Over Churches

Ted Cruz and Mike Lee
U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have written a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch demanding answers about an apparent preference to defend abortion clinics over places of worship. (Reuters photo)

Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) authored a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch inquiring about the Justice Department's apparent preference of abortion clinics over churches as it relates to a 22-year-old federal law.

Cruz and Lee are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as the Oversight Subcommittee, which is responsible for overseeing the functions of Lynch's office and the Justice Department. The letter, they said, was written due to concerns over comments Lynch has made, as well as statements currently made on the Justice Department website regarding the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994.

"FACE prohibits any use or threat of force and physical obstruction that intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with any person seeking: (1) to obtain or provide reproductive health services, or (2) to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship," the letter states. It also notes the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is responsible for enforcing the law.

The letter also expresses concerns based on Lynch's testimony March 9 before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which she mentioned her department's "active" and "increased" efforts to enforce FACE as it relates to abortion clinics, but not churches. The senators also point out that the Civil Rights Division's website also discusses the same approach.

The website states:

The [Special Litigation Section] has served a pivotal role in enforcing [FACE] to protect patients and health care providers against threats of force and physical obstruction of reproductive health facilities. The Department has filed more than 15 FACE actions in more than a dozen states and there are ongoing investigations in other states. Section attorneys have obtained temporary restraining orders and preliminary and permanent injunctions under the FACE and have won civil contempt motions for violations of these injunctions.

For example, the Section obtained a preliminary injunction against 35 defendants for blockading a reproductive health facility in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In another case, the Section won preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting defendants from threatening a California reproductive health doctor and his wife. In addition, the Section secured a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction prohibiting a defendant, who had threatened a doctor, from approaching the Ohio clinic. When the defendant violated the injunction, the Section was successful in obtaining criminal contempt. The Section won civil contempt and fines against another defendant based on violation of an injunction creating various buffer zones outside a Connecticut reproductive health care clinic. The Section also successfully defended against constitutional challenges to FACE.

The page includes a link to another that lists specific cases, judgments, and settlements related to abortion workers and abortion facilities. Neither page makes any reference churches or other places of worship having been similarly protected by the Justice Department.

The Cruz and Lee letter also points out the website distorts facts about numerous cases where the Justice Department wrongfully prosecuted Christians who were simply exercising their First Amendment-protected freedoms of religion and speech.

"The DOJ's brazen pursuit (and subsequent online promotion) of—at best—frivolous prosecutions in the abortion context, combined with its failure to list any religious prosecutions or enforcement activities in the religious worship context, gives the distinct impression of a warped and biased enforcement of FACE by the DOJ," they wrote.

Cruz and Lee have asked Lynch to answer a number of questions and to provide evidence during the time frame of January 2009—when President Obama took office—to the present as it relates to the Justice Department's enforcement of FACE. Her office has until April 11 to respond to the requests.

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