A California woman pleaded guilty to making bomb threats against a historic Catholic high school in Washington D.C. two years ago after school officials decided same-sex marriage announcements would be included in its alumni letter, the Justice Department said Monday.
Sonia Tabizada, 36, of San Jacinto, Calif., pleaded guilty in federal court "to intentionally obstructing persons in the enjoyment of their free exercise of religious beliefs" by threatening to bomb the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., the DOJ annonced in a press release. Her actions qualified as a hate crime.
In May 2019, school officials announced that Visitation Prep, the oldest Catholic school for girls in the country, would begin publishing same-sex wedding announcements in its alumni magazine to advance its teaching that "we are all children of God ... worthy of respect and love," according to the Justice Department.
Tabizada learned of this announcement and made multiple calls threatening violence in response to the school’s decision, according to her plea agreement.
On May 15, 2019, Tabizada left a voice message stating that she was going to burn and bomb the church, prosecutors said. She also stated that she was going to kill school officials and students. Several minutes later, Tabizada left a second voice mail stating that she was going to blow up the school and warned that she would commit "terrorism."
"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," Eric Drieband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. "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."
Michael R. Sherwin, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said "the defendant’s violent threats were directed at the free exercise of a private school community’s religious beliefs."
"An attack upon the free exercise of any person or group’s religious beliefs is an attack upon the civil rights of every citizen," he added.
Steven M. D’Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said Tabizada used threats of violence to intimidate others because of differing religious views.
"Every citizen and community has the Constitutional right to exercise their own religious beliefs free from fear and discrimination," he continued. "Defending civil rights is a top priority for the FBI and we will continue to work to protect the civil rights and freedoms granted to all Americans."
Tabizada will be sentenced at a hearing scheduled for March 23, 2021. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.