- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2021

New York Attorney General Letitia James has dropped charges against the pastor and 10 members of a nondenominational church accused of threatening women and bumping abortion clinic escorts during sidewalk preaching at a Queens facility.

In a document filed last week in federal court, Ms. James’ office said all charges against the Rev. Kenneth Griepp and the Church@TheRock will be “voluntarily dismissed with prejudice” with regard to alleged incidents at the Choices Women’s Medical Center.

According to the court document, neither the state nor the church will seek reimbursement for court costs, and the church has agreed not to countersue the attorney general’s office as a condition of dropping the charges.

Stephen Crampton, a senior counsel for the nonprofit Thomas More Society that defended the Brooklyn church in court, said state officials had used hidden cameras, undercover investigators and a fake Facebook account to seek evidence of wrongdoing.

“The good news is that we had cellphone videos,” Mr. Crampton told The Washington Times. “That turned out to be the key evidence in the case, showing it was the clinic escorts who were the most aggressive.” 

The state attorney general’s office has not issued any further public comment on the case and did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

In addition to charges of impeding access and bumping into escorts, the state had accused the sidewalk preachers of making death threats against people entering the abortion clinic under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act.

“The people who went to work on 9/11 didn’t know what was going to happen that day, you never know when you’re going to die,” preacher Ron George had told clinic visitors, according to court documents.

Defense lawyers argued that Mr. George’s comment remained within the boundaries of constitutionally protected free speech and did not violate federal law.

They also argued that the FACE Act did not restrict other church members from seeking to engage clinic visitors in conversation.

Signed into law by President Clinton in May 1994, the FACE Act seeks to prevent abortion protesters from interfering with access to women’s health clinics.

Ms. James’ decision to drop the charges comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled unanimously in favor of the church in August.

That ruling reversed the court’s decision three months earlier and affirmed a lower court that had ruled in favor of the church.

Former state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman first filed the civil lawsuit — People of the State of New York v. Griepp et al — with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in June 2017.

The lawsuit had sought an injunction to keep church members away from the clinic in addition to financial damages and attorneys’ fees.

Mr. Griepp said the lawsuit had not interfered with his congregation’s Saturday morning visits to the clinic.

“The judgment of the courts has borne out that we were innocent,” Mr. Griepp told The Times.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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