A California woman pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges on Monday after threatening to bomb a Catholic prep school over their publication of gay marriage announcements in an alumni magazine.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 36-year-old Sonia Tabizada made several phone calls to Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C. in early 2019 after the nation’s oldest Catholic girls school announced they would print same-sex marriage announcements in the Visitation Alumnae Magazine as part of an effort to promote church teaching that all of God’s children “have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.”
“As a professed Sister of the Visitation for 67 years, I have devoted my life in service to the Catholic Church,” Sister Mary Berchmans, the school’s president pro emerita, wrote at the time. “The Church is clear in its teaching on same-sex marriages. But, it is equally clear in its teaching that we are all children of God, that we each have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.”
“As I have prayed over this contradiction, I keep returning to this choice: we can focus on Church teaching on gay marriage or we can focus on Church teaching on the Gospel commandment of love,” Berchmans continued. “We know from history — including very recent history — that the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes. Yet, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it learns and grows. And so, we choose the Gospel commandment of love.”
The nun began her epigraph with a quote from St. Francis de Sales:
The Church is a garden patterned with unlimited flowers; it is necessary that they should be of various sizes, various colors, various odors, and, to sum it up, different perfections . . . all of them provide a beauty most pleasing and perfect.
But those words from the patron saint of writers and journalists were apparently none-too-convincing for Tabizada.
In May 2019, she left a voicemail saying she would bomb and burn the church–as well as kill school officials and students–over their newfound progressive stance. Another voicemail explicitly promised “terrorism” and she reiterated the bombing threat.
One such message contained the following threats:
Hey motherfuckers, I’m going to burn that fucking church, I’m going to bomb it, bitch! I’m going to fucking kill you guys. I’m going to send my fucking soldiers, motherfuckers. Remove the fucking gay motherfuckers from your magazine, or I’m going to fucking kill your kids. That’s a promise.
The second message said:
What kind of pervert priests do you guys have running the show? Nobody cares for those girls? You’re crushing the innocent, motherfucking asshole. I’m gonna fucking blow up the school and call it a mission from God. You guys are going to get terrorism within your fucking school, motherfucker. And you’re going to be guilty. And I warned you!
Tabizada was indicted in January 2020 and initially pleaded not guilty. She has no known affiliation with the school.
“The defendant made violent threats against high school students, religious leaders, and school officials based solely on her disagreement with a private school’s application of religious doctrine,” Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Eric Drieband said in a press release. “Tolerance and religious freedom are cornerstone values in our society and the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute violent threats motivated by bias.”
The specific charge to which Tabizadad pleaded guilty was a violation of 18 U.S.C. §247(a)(2) which provides, in relevant part:
Whoever…intentionally obstructs, by force or threat of force, including by threat of force against religious real property, any person in the enjoyment of that person’s free exercise of religious beliefs, or attempts to do so;shall be punished as provided in subsection (d)…if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, a fine in accordance with this title and imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.
“The defendant’s violent threats were directed at the free exercise of a private school community’s religious beliefs,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael R. Sherwin explained. “An attack upon the free exercise of any person or group’s religious beliefs is an attack upon the civil rights of every citizen. Today’s guilty plea is part of my office’s commitment to ensuring that all District citizens can safely exercise their religious beliefs and that all of their civil rights are protected.”
While the admitted hate criminal faces a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison, her admission of guilt and federal sentencing guidelines suggest that she will likely serve a substantially shorter time in lockup.
“Tabizada used threats of violence to intimidate others because of differing religious views,” Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Steven M. D’Antuono, which handled the investigation of the case, added. “Every citizen and community has the constitutional right to exercise their own religious beliefs free from fear and discrimination.”
[image via Samuel Corum/Getty Images]
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