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LANGUAGE

DOJ Attorney Expressed Concerns About Conservative Media Coverage of Biden Admin Persecuting Christians, Pro-Lifers

A federal Justice Department attorney expressed concerns to a Michigan judge about conservative media coverage suggesting that President Joe Biden’s administration is persecuting Christians and pro-lifers for their beliefs.

The discussion took place during a March pre-trial conference in USA v. Zastrow, in which the federal government brought Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act charges against eight pro-life individuals who tried to stop abortions of unborn babies from taking place at Michigan abortion clinics.

Those pro-life activists are Calvin Zastrow, Eva Zastrow, Chester Gallagher, Heather Idoni, Caroline Davis, Joel Curry, Justin Phillips, and Eva Edl (a communist death camp survivor who recently spoke with The Daily Signal).

The FACE Act is a 1994 law that prohibits individuals from obstructing the entrances of both abortion clinics and pregnancy resource centers, although it has been heavily enforced by Biden’s DOJ against pro-lifers since the June 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade.

During the pre-trial motion hearing, according to a transcript obtained by The Daily Signal, DOJ attorney Laura-Kate Bernstein raised concerns that “there’s a great deal of press about this case and the case in Nashville recently.” Bernstein was referring to a case in Tennessee where six pro-lifers were praying outside of an abortion clinic in 2021 and were charged with FACE Act violations.

Bernstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Where?” questioned Judge Matthew Leitman. “I haven’t seen any.”

Bernstein explained that she was referring to online media “like Mike Huckabee’s show or Laura Ingraham’s show, and those sorts of sources, and some written sources, too, in which at least one of the defense attorneys is making very acerbic statements about the government’s case and the legitimacy of the laws at stake, and that the Biden regime is persecuting Christians.”

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“My concern is one of the jury pool,” she continued. “My concern is that as these national media reach more and more people, including people in the district, that they may be tainted with a preconceived notion of the Biden regime’s persecution of Christians and be unable to try the case as neutral jurors.”

The DOJ attorney said that she was not asking the court to do “something in particular,” but then told the judge that it is the court’s “affirmative, constitutional duty to minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity.”

Leitman, after asking for clarification on her question, noted that he could ask the jurors whether they had read anything about the case. But he said that Bernstein’s question seemed to be rooted in “important political speech.”

“It seems to me that your first statement, the Biden administration is persecuting Christians … that’s pretty core, important political speech, whether you agree with it or not,” the judge said. “I mean, I’d be hard pressed to tell somebody not to say that.”

The DOJ attorney then pushed back, saying she was referring to interviews in which the pro-lifer’s attorney said that “this case is a war on pro-lifers, that the Department of Justices is using the FACE Act as a weapon against pro-lifers,” or that “the clients are victims of political persecution.”

She also pushed back against the idea that “there’s a two-tier justice system, one for friends of the administration who go free and one for people who are on the wrong spiritual side of the administration.”

“There’s also extremely inflammatory language undermining the legitimacy of the laws to be implied in this case, that you’ve already ruled on—the constitutionality of it—whether reproductive health care includes abortion, as the statue defines it,” she continued. “And because the court has this affirmative, constitutional duty, we wanted to bring it to your attention.”

Bernstein then asked the judge to admonish Thomas More Society attorney Steve Crampton “about speaking about this case in inflammatory and acerbic ways that might taint the jury pool.”

“This isn’t about trying to, you know, interfere with any of his First Amendment rights,” she followed up, noting that Crampton is “of course” free to speak about his clients. “It’s about trying to protect the due process rights in this trial and the government’s right and the public’s right to a fair trial.”

Crampton clarified to the court that Bernstein was referring to Tennessee pro-life activist Paul Vaughn’s interview on the “Mike Huckabee Show,” in which Vaughn made such comments “only after the jury verdict” was entered in his case.

In January, a federal jury convicted Vaughn and five other defendants of a felony conspiracy against rights and a FACE Act offense for trying to stop abortions from taking place at a Mount Juliet, Tennessee, abortion clinic in March 2021.

“Any reference to United States against Zastrow and this case were, at best, minimal to nonexistent,” the Thomas More Society attorney said. “So I think the government, perhaps, is overreacting to the press coverage of the Nashville case. Nobody’s called any press conference regarding this case, and we certainly have no intention of doing so.”

This week, seven pro-life defendants have been sentenced to prison time on DOJ FACE Act charges related to their attempts to stop abortions from taking place at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic. That abortion clinic is run by Cesare Santangelo, an abortionist who has been accused of allowing babies to die if they survive his botched abortions.

The District of Columbia does not have laws restricting abortion.

The DOJ said in a release Wednesday: “Lauren Handy was sentenced to 57 months in prison, John Hinshaw was sentenced to 21 months in prison, and William Goodman was sentenced to 27 months in prison,” adding that “Jonathan Darnel was sentenced to 34 months in prison, Herb Geraghty was sentenced to 27 months in prison, Jean Marshall was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Joan Bell was sentenced to 27 months in prison.”

Those efforts are led by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, who just admittedfollowing a report from The Daily Signal, that she hid an arrest and its subsequent expungement from investigators when she was confirmed by the Senate to her Justice Department post.

“Violence has no place in our national discourse on reproductive health. Using force, threatening to use force, or physically obstructing access to reproductive health care is unlawful,” said Clarke in a statement accompanying this week’s DOJ release.

“As we mark the 30th anniversary of the FACE Act, it’s important that we not lose sight of the history of violence against reproductive health care providers, including the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Florida—tragic and horrific events that led to passage of the law,” she added. “The Justice Department will continue to protect both patients seeking reproductive health services and providers of those services. We will hold accountable those who seek to interfere with access to reproductive health services in our country.”

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This article was published by The Daily Signal and is reproduced with permission.

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