New York attorney general Letitia James's office deployed hidden cameras and undercover operatives against a pro-life Brooklyn pastor and his flock, but the year-long legal campaign hit a snag Thursday when a federal appeals court unanimously affirmed the protesters' right to gather.
James and her two Democratic predecessors have pursued various harassment charges against Rev. Kenneth Griepp and worshippers of his Brooklyn church since 2017, going so far as to pay for and install hidden security cameras at a local abortion clinic. The impressive array of taxpayer-funded surveillance equipment, however, did not impress jurists at the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court unanimously affirmed a district court decision to dismiss James's bid for a preliminary injunction against the protesters because she "failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits as to most claims."
"It may be particularly appropriate to reconsider whether there were violations," the appellate court added.
Griepp, senior pastor of Church at the Rock, said the state's lawsuit made organizing efforts more difficult because churchgoers were afraid legal action could be taken against them. Griepp said he still takes joy in counseling women outside of the abortion clinic because he knows he’s following his calling.
"The political powers have rejected God in this sphere of life," Griepp told the Washington Free Beacon. "We rejoice in the persecution. Does that make it easier? No. But it does allow us to understand that this is part of following the Lord."
The New York attorney general’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment, claimed the pro-life activists crowded and threatened women outside of the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens. The state complaint details how officials planted hidden cameras outside of the abortion clinic and hired undercover investigators to infiltrate the sidewalk events in an attempt to prove there was harassment. Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, the nonprofit religious liberty firm that represented Griepp, said this is an example of the state targeting its political enemies to the benefit of its political allies.
"It looks to all the world that this is a targeting of pro-life activists who happen to be persistent and effective," Crampton told the Free Beacon. "So the dirty work here is done by the state and not the clinic itself."
This is not the first time a Democratic attorney general has targeted pro-life activists. Vice President Kamala Harris, as the attorney general of California, pursued an investigation against pro-life journalist David Daleiden after his hidden cameras captured top abortion officials talking candidly about their organ harvesting operations. Her successor, Xavier Becerra, who now serves as Biden's secretary of Health and Human Services, filed 15 felony charges against Daleiden in 2017. The pro-life activist said pro-abortion lawmakers are abusing the power of their office to silence dissent.
"For years, Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry have been cultivating patronage relationships with powerful pro-abortion politicians in law enforcement leadership roles in order to silence and persecute pro-life voices while also obstructing justice in investigations of abortion crimes," Daleiden told the Free Beacon. "Americans are waking up to this corrupt abortion industrial-political complex, and the facts will continue to come out about how some of the most powerful so-called public servants in the country have abused their power to shield special-interest abortion businesses from any criticism or scrutiny."
The case will now go to a district court to debate how to apply regulations on gatherings outside of abortion clinics. Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Choices Women’s Medical Center, said she is disappointed about this reversal but remains confident that the pro-life movement will be defeated at the courts in the future.
"I can count on one hand during the last decades when they have been successful because nothing and no one will stop women from seeking abortions when they need them," Hoffman, who founded the National Abortion Federation in 1976, told the Free Beacon.
Crampton said the unanimous decision from the court is an encouraging sign for these pro-life activists, who he said want nothing more but to voice their beliefs.
"What this is about, and nothing else, is the viewpoint and the content of the pro-life speech on the sidewalks," he told the Free Beacon. "When we lose the right to say things that are unpopular and that folks don’t want to hear, we pretty much lose everything here."
New York's prosecution of pro-life activists is not limited to the outer boroughs. In February, James, who received Planned Parenthood Empire State's endorsement in 2020, filed a separate lawsuit that accused sidewalk counselors of harassing women outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Manhattan. That case is pending in a federal district court.