The state government of Connecticut might just be the epicenter of state sponsored anti-Catholicism in the country right now. The state is seeking to silence the Catholic Church. Again.
Ever since the Church’s stance supporting traditional marriage or at least for a conscience clause for religious organizations, many in state government have sought to punish the Church or at least silence it.
If you’ll recall a few months ago two Democrat state legislators proposed a bill targeting Catholic parishes by instituting elected boards to oversee parishes. This, of course, caused an outrage as the government had no right to intervene in the Church’s affairs.
But, Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner reports that:
The public uproar spurred the bill’s sponsors to withdraw it and cancel the hearing the night before. But the church-sponsored rally went on anyway, making the diocese a renegade lobbyist.
Six weeks after the rally, the Office of State Ethics informed the diocese that it may have violated state law by lobbying without being a registered lobbyist. In a meeting between the bishop and the OSE (Office of State Ethics) the next week, an OSE official said he had enough evidence to file a formal complaint against the diocese. A complaint could trigger multiple fines of $10,000 or more….
State law defines lobbying as “communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government or in a quasi-public agency, for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action. …”
Anyone who spends more than $2,000 “lobbying” — for instance, renting buses to organize a statehouse rally against an unconstitutional assault on one’s liberties — is a “lobbyist,” according to the OSE, and must register as a lobbyist.
So let’s just boil all this down. Two idiotic Connecticut lawmakers try to pass a law taking all the power of parishes away from the Church and forcibly hand it over to an elected board. And the Church responds by asking Catholics to stand up against this blatant anti-Catholic power grab only to have the state declare that the Church engaged in unauthorized lobbying which violates state ethics laws.
And as Carney points out, pinning the lobbyist tag on the Church is a big deal.
Registering to lobby is no small matter of filling out a form and paying a fee. Registered lobbyists must, thrice a year plus once a month while the legislature is in session, file detailed reports on all their activities and expenditures related to lobbying. They are also required, whenever lobbying, to wear a badge identifying themselves as lobbyists.
So Carney asked if priests would be forced to wear a badge identifying them if they were going to speak about abortion in a sermon. The government had no response.
Hmmm. This kinda’ reminds me of something else though. The government forcing certain people of a religious persuasion to wear a badge of some sort to single them out. Hmmm…Ringing any bells for anyone else?
But thankfully the diocese isn’t sitting still.
The diocese recently announced that they’re suing in federal court to block the state from enforcing the lobbying laws against it.
Bishop Lori has a statement up on their website:
In United States District Court today, attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport filed a lawsuit against officials of the State of Connecticut Office of State Ethics (OSE), seeking a court order to stop them from an unconstitutional application of state lobbying laws.
These officials are requiring the Diocese – and presumably all other organizations – to register as a lobbyist in order to engage in activities such as a rally at the State Capitol or using its website to encourage its members to contact their elected representatives. Application of the law in this manner would subject the First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Assembly to government oversight and penalties.
Bishop William E. Lori stated today, “Following the surprise introduction of
Bill 1098, a proposal that singled out Catholic parishes and would have forced them to reorganize contrary to Church law and the First Amendment, our Diocese responded in the most natural, spontaneous, and frankly, American, of ways: we alerted our membership – in person and through our website; we encouraged them to exercise their free speech by contacting their elected representatives; and, we organized a rally at the State Capitol. How can this possibly be called lobbying?”
“This cannot possibly be what our Legislature had in mind when it sought to bring more transparency and oversight to a legislative process that has been corrupted by special interests and back-room deals. If it is, then it should shock the conscience of all citizens of the Constitution State,” Bishop Lori added.
For those inclined to the legalese, check out the website.
So for all those keeping score at home, the government is pushing even more chips on the table and they’re betting you’re not paying attention. The Catholic Church must win this battle or many other state governments will use similar lobbying rules as a lever to silence the Church. Make no mistake. If the state is successful here, this will be repeated nationwide.