WICHITA — An anti-abortion activist accused of sending a threatening letter to a Wichita doctor training to offer abortions asked a federal court on Wednesday to forbid the government from prying into her jailhouse ministry with the man convicted of killing Dr. George Tiller.
Angel Dillard argues in a court filing that the information sought by the government about her inmate ministry to Scott Roeder and other inmates is protected by the clergy-communicant privilege and the First Amendment. She is seeking a protective order barring disclosure of the information.
The dustup comes in a lawsuit the Justice Department filed against Dillard last year under a federal law aimed at protecting access to reproductive services. The government has accused Dillard of sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services after Tiller’s 2009 shooting death.
“A dangerous precedent would be set if the Department of Justice is allowed to conduct wholesale inquiry into clergy-communicant counseling under the guise of civil discovery,” Dillard’s attorney wrote. “The mere threat, alone, of a few such breaches of confidence would cause significant harm to ministerial efforts in jail and prison settings in general.”
The government has argued that Dillard identified herself on prison logs as a friend to Roeder, rather than minister. The Justice Department also contended the ministerial privilege does not apply in this case because there is no evidence Dillard is an ordained minister. It also argued that even if she qualified as a clergyperson, she and the inmates she visited must have been aware conversations or writings are likely monitored.
Dillard wrote in an affidavit filed Wednesday that she felt God had called her to reach out to Roeder, and said she signed in at the first meeting as a ministry visitor. Roeder eventually became a friend, she said, but the foremost purpose of every communication was to minister to him.
“At no time in my jail ministry did I engage in or plan unlawful criminal acts, nor did I communicate with inmates to that end,” she wrote.
Among the visits with Roeder was one Dillard made together with the Rev. Michael Bray, an Ohio activist and author of “A Time to Kill.” His book defends the use of lethal force to protect the unborn. Bray spent four years in prison in connection with the destruction of several abortion clinics in the Washington, D.C., area.
Bray recently recounted in a phone interview with The Associated Press — and wrote in his online blog — about a visit he made with Dillard to see Roeder during which they affirmed directly to Roeder that what he did was good and right, and that killing Tiller saved the lives of innocent children.
“There was no condemnation from God for his deed, we told him. On the contrary, there would be nothing but commendation on a job well done,” Bray wrote of that visit. “We all bore witness to these words and assured him that in the face of damnation by the court, he was in fact right and the rulers of Kansas were wrong.”
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom declined to comment on Bray’s account of that joint prison visit.
But Dillard’s attorney, Don McKinney, said in an email that his client and Bray had both shown up during visiting hours on a regular visiting day, noting Roeder had asked Dillard to come see him on that day. McKinney said his client had never discussed her views on the use of violence with Bray, and that his use of the word “we” in the blog post was imprecise and did not include Dillard.
Dillard did not say much of anything during that visit, and stayed after Bray left in order to give Roeder spiritual counseling, McKinney said.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit contends Dillard told Means in a 2011 letter that thousands of people from across the United States are already looking into her background.
“They will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car everyday — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”