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Sen. Cruz Calls on Attorney General Barr to Investigate Local Officials Abusing Power, Targeting Religious Communities

Letter condemns trend of pandemic authoritarianism, including NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio’s tweet threatening Jewish community

April 30, 2020

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202-228-7561

HOUSTON, Texas - In response to a disturbing trend of pandemic authoritarianism, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on The Constitution, today called on Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate state and local officials who target and discriminate against religious communities under the guise of protecting public health.

In a letter to Barr, as reported by the Associated Press, Sen. Cruz highlighted several examples of state and local overreach, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's threat to permanently shutter houses of worship whose members continue to meet amid the pandemic.

"I urge you to pay specific attention to the growing tendency of local leaders to target communities of faith. I highlighted examples of this threat to civil liberties in my op-ed: "In Louisville, Ky., and Greenville, Miss., Democratic mayors fought to stop individuals from attending church for Lenten and Easter services, even if they remained in their cars to worship." I also discussed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's threat that churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples would be shuttered permanently if their members continued to meet for services. These and similar actions are unconscionable and ripe for investigation."

He went on to call for the Department of Justice to closely monitor New York City to ensure Mayor De Blasio's recent threatening rhetoric against the Jewish community does not lead to discriminatory policies and is not met with violence in a city experiencing a rise in violent antisemitism.

"I also strongly urge you to investigate local officials who target and discriminate against members of individual religions or denominations under the guise of protecting public health. Most notably, Mayor De Blasio recently threatened the ‘Jewish community' with arrest after Orthodox Jews gathered to pay their respects for a prominent rabbi at a funeral that was coordinated with local officials. The fact that the Mayor made this threat mere days after tweeting in support of a program that would bring ‘hundreds of thousands [of meals] to the 32 sites most frequented by our Muslim communities' and attending large gatherings with health care workers without protective equipment suggests that the Jewish community is being singled out for special burdens. This is dangerous in and of itself. But it is especially dangerous to single out the Jewish community in a city that is experiencing a substantial rise in violent antisemitism. The Department of Justice should not hesitate to closely monitor New York City to ensure that the Mayor's rhetoric does not translate into constitutional violations."

Earlier this month, Sen. Cruz warned about the dangers of pandemic authoritarianism and urged state and local leaders to protect Americans' civil liberties in an op-ed for the New York Post, writing:

"This crisis has shown us the character of the American people. We have seen that Americans of all walks of life are ready and willing to make sacrifices to help stop the spread of this virus. But it has also shown us the character of too many Democratic elected officials who are using this crisis to subvert the Bill of Rights and rob us of our freedoms... I hope that state and local officials will rectify the profoundly destructive, unconstitutional effects of their mandates. We can and must protect ourselves against disease - we should not have to protect ourselves against tyranny as well."

Read the full op-ed here. The letter may be viewed here and below.

April 30, 2020

The Honorable William P. Barr
Attorney General of the United States
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Barr:

As you know, our country is currently in the midst of a national crisis caused by COVID-19 with local and state governments working diligently to protect lives from this pernicious disease. But as you also know, some officials have used this crisis as an opportunity to violate the constitution and restrict freedom in ways that have nothing to do with protecting American lives. I have been raising concerns about this growing authoritarianism for the last few weeks, including in a New York Post op-ed piece, and it appears the trend is far from abating.

I applaud you for recognizing this trend and taking affirmative steps to help stop local and state officials from encroaching on our individual freedoms. As you correctly explained in your April 27th memo directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to oversee and coordinate efforts to monitor and correct overaggressive policies, "[i]f a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court."

In this effort, I urge you to pay specific attention to the growing tendency of local leaders to target communities of faith. I highlighted examples of this threat to civil liberties in my op-ed: "In Louisville, Ky., and Greenville, Miss., Democratic mayors fought to stop individuals from attending church for Lenten and Easter services, even if they remained in their cars to worship." I also discussed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's threat that churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples would be shuttered permanently if their members continued to meet for services. These and similar actions are unconscionable and ripe for investigation.

I also strongly urge you to investigate local officials who target and discriminate against members of individual religions or denominations under the guise of protecting public health. Most notably, Mayor De Blasio recently threatened the "Jewish community" with arrest after Orthodox Jews gathered to pay their respects for a prominent rabbi at a funeral that was coordinated with local officials. The fact that the Mayor made this threat mere days after tweeting in support of a program that would bring "hundreds of thousands [of meals] to the 32 sites most frequented by our Muslim communities" and attending large gatherings with health care workers without protective equipment suggests that the Jewish community is being singled out for special burdens. This is dangerous in and of itself. But it is especially dangerous to single out the Jewish community in a city that is experiencing a substantial rise in violent antisemitism. The Department of Justice should not hesitate to closely monitor New York City to ensure that the Mayor's rhetoric does not translate into constitutional violations.

Your attention to the threat the pandemic poses to civil liberties is greatly appreciated. Many Americans feel they have little recourse as large tech platforms aid local and state governments by silencing dissenting speech. The Department of Justice can provide that recourse by standing in support of the constitution and against overaggressive local and state officials, especially where those officials threaten not only religious liberty, but specific, identifiable religious groups.

Regards,

/s/

###

 

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