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Religious Groups Criticize Government Surveillance of “Religious Texts” Transactions

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The Epoch Times has found that religious leaders and advocates for religious freedom are expressing significant concern. This comes after information surfaced that, as part of their investigation into January 6, 2021, federal officials encouraged banks and other financial entities to surveil customer accounts using search terms including “religious texts,” “MAGA,” and “Trump.”

The criticism mounted among those fighting for religious liberty, as these searches were conducted absent judicially authorized warrants. Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, a non-profit organization centered around traditional values, found such actions by the Biden administration appalling.

“This is beyond alarming,” Perkins told The Epoch Times. “If we did a word search in history of the type of activities the Biden administration is engaged in, it would return words like ‘KGB,’ ’totalitarian,‘ ’repressive,’ ‘anti-democratic,’ and ‘grave threat to freedom.’”

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, another non-profit organization championing religious liberty, warned against the inherent danger of such governmental overreach in a society renowned for its freedom of speech. He laid bare the realities of such oppressive actions, typically associated with autocratic governments looking to suppress dissenting voices.

According to the report, Leaders of other organizations expressed similar sentiments. The First Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford termed federal encroachment on freedom of speech through financial institutions monitoring the purchase of religious texts as ‘outrageous,’ adding that such actions posed a significant threat to all freedoms. His sentiments were echoed by Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defending Freedom, who labeled the government’s collaboration with financial institutions to flag their customers for activities pertaining to the exercise of constitutional rights as “terrifying.”

According to a statement by Representative Jim Jordan, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, such surveillance was orchestrated by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Stakeholder Integration and Engagement in collaboration with the FBI.

His letters to Noah Bishoff, the former director of FinCEN now performing the role of anti-money laundering officer for Plaid Inc, and Peter Sullivan, senior private sector partner for the FBI, asked them to testify about the searches.

“According to this analysis, FinCEN warned financial institutions of ‘extremism’ indicators that include ‘transportation charges, such as bus tickets, rental cars, or plane tickets, for travel areas with no apparent purpose,’ or ‘the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views,’” Jordan wrote.

“In other words, FinCEN used large financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression.”

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