Anti-choice extremists continue their effort to render the Constitution meaningless, arguing that a woman who gave jail-house “counsel” to convicted murder Scott Roeder does not have to disclose the substance of those conversations with Roeder in the case against her because they are protected by the clergy-communicant privilege and the First Amendment.
Angel Dillard is accused of of sending threatening letters to Dr. Mila Means, a Wichita doctor training to offer abortions in the area after the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller. According to reports, Dillard told Means in a 2011 letter that thousands of people across the country were looking into her background. “They will know your habits and routines” the letter read. “They know where you you shop, who your friends are, what you drive where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday- because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”
The government wants to know what, if any connection Dillard has to Roeder, the Tiller murder and what other acts of domestic terrorism the two discussed. Roeder was convicted of murdering Dr. Tiller and, while serving his prison sentence, had several communications with Dillard and Rev. Michael Bray. Bray, an Ohio anti-choice radical, promotes the use of lethal force in the battle over abortion rights, and spent four years in prison in connection with attacks on several abortion clinics in the Washington D.C. area.
Dillard argues she doesn’t have to tell them. In an affidavit filed to try and protect the communications, Dillard claims God had called her to reach out to Roeder and serve as a minister to him. According to reports, during their first meeting together Dillard claims she signed into prison logs as a ministry visitor but later, through those ministerial visits became Roeder’s friend. However, just because the two were friends, Dillard argues, doesn’t change the fact that she was still a “clergy” person to Roeder. Should the government be allowed to discover the substance of her communications with Roeder it would send a chill into all ministerial efforts in jail and prison settings generally.
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The government claims Dillard is no member of the clergy and therefore can’t protect those communications from discovery in the case against her. Furthermore, the government argues, even if Dillard had signed prison logs as a minister, there’s no evidence she is actually ordained, nor has Dillard produced any proof she is an actual minister. Finally, the government argues, even if she was qualified as a clergyperson, she and Roeder would have reasonably believed their conversations were being monitored and recorded which would undo any possibility of those communications remaining secret.
Testamentary privileges like ministerial privileges, or doctor-patient privileges, are designed to recognize the need to have open channels of candid communication, but are specifically not supposed to be used as a means to promote and protect otherwise unlawful behavior. In Dillard’s case, it’s easy to see why.
Dillard has good reason to want to keep the substance of those conversations secret. The Department of Justice has an open grand jury investigation into whether Dr. Tiller’s murder was connected to a broader effort by anti-abortion radicals to re-engange in acts of domestic terrorism against abortion providers and patients. And while no indictments have been handed down yet, the fact that the Obama administration has not backed off the links between Dillard, Bray and Roeder is further evidence of a more serious approach to domestic terrorism and clinic violence than the previous administration.
It’s unlikely that Dillard will be successful in protecting all of her communications from disclosure, but she may luck out and keep a few from the government’s lawyers. And if she does, the victory won’t be in shielding from disclosure a visit or two with a convicted murder, it will be in further emboldening the extremists in the right to try and distort reasonable constitutional religious protections in the name of their violent anti-woman agenda.