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EXCLUSIVE: The White House condemned arson and vandalism at places of worship “in the strongest possible terms,” calling the attacks “despicable” and illegal, and saying Americans “must be able to practice their faith without fear.”
“The President is deeply concerned about these reports and condemns arson and other acts of vandalism at places of worship in the strongest possible terms,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told Fox News. “Such attacks are despicable, endanger lives and have the terrible goal of instilling fear. They are also illegal.”
“As the president has repeatedly said, everyone should be able to practice their faith without fear, and no individual or institution should be subjected to intimidation, harassment, or violence because of their identity or religious affiliation,” Bates said.
The comments come after two churches were set on fire and a third was vandalized in Bethesda, Maryland, over the weekend.
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Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, authorities were called to North Bethesda United Methodist Church for vandalism and arson, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.
About 1,000 feet away, investigators also found damaged headstones and “broken pieces of wood” scattered around the Wildwood Baptist Church.
Then on Sunday morning, Montgomery County firefighters were called to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, where several pews had caught fire.
Damage was estimated at $50,000 at the Catholic Church, which is a mile away from the other two churches that were vandalized, according to Fox 5 DC.
It is not clear if the vandalism and arson were related to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Pro-life leaders last month called on the Justice Department to investigate attacks on churches and pro-life organizations following the Supreme Court’s ruling to return abortion to the states for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Also last month, leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urged US politicians to denounce what they described as the “alarming rate” of vandalism against Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore issued a statement ahead of the Supreme Court decision, noting that attacks and vandalism against Catholic churches have increased over the past two years and that they first called on elected officials to condemn such attacks in 2021. They noted that since the leak of the high court draft opinion, have noted that the attacks have become almost daily.
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“Last January, we prayed that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear. Only rarely have the motives been clear; when they were, it was often opposition to the teachings of the church about life in the womb,” the clergymen wrote.
Dolan, who serves as chair of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, and Lori, chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, explained that since the Court’s opinion was leaked, “charities that support Pregnant mothers in need have been bombed, and pro-life organizations have been attacked and terrorized almost daily, and even the lives of Supreme Court justices have been directly threatened.”
“In light of this, we urge our elected officials to take a strong stand against this violence, and our law enforcement authorities to increase their vigilance to protect those most at risk. We thank those who have already done so and We encourage you to continue,” they added.
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Dolan and Lori also praised the Catholic Church’s “long history of serving the most vulnerable, including both mother and child,” saying that it “remains the largest provider of social services in the United States.”
Conservative Supreme Court justices have also been threatened, specifically Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who even faced a death threat. Nicholas Roske, 26, was arrested and charged after he allegedly attempted to carry out a murder-suicide plot against Kavanaugh at his Maryland home.
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Congress finally passed a bill that would provide security protections for Supreme Court justices and their families, and President Biden signed that measure into law last month.
Paul Best and Jon Brown of Fox News contributed to this report.