Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's Who You Know, Not What You Know

A blog entrée written by Ghengis Conn, the proprietor of Connecticut Local Politics, noted in a piece in the Journal Inquirer written by reporter Don Michak, caught the attention of no less an eminence than Attorney General Richard Blumenthal who, properly chastened, vowed he would use his considerable influence to persuade the legislature to alter, if necessary, a bill involving minors and internet predators.

The legislative bill, according to Michak, would require social internet sites such as MySpace and Facebook to obtain “written consent from the minor’s parent or guardian and giving the latter access to the profile page at all times.” The legislation also “would require the sites to use independently obtainable information to confirm the accuracy of personal information collected from site members, parents and guardians when registering.”

These safety valves alarmed Ghengis, who wrote on his own site, “…there’s no way I and the other moderators (on Connecticut Local Politics) can check everyone’s ages in the way that this bill wants.”

Almost immediately after these objections were noted on Connecticut Local Politics, Michael Lawlor, the powerful co-chair of the Judiciary Committee who is presently spearheading a bill in the legislature that would force Catholics to dispense Plan B pills to rape victims, appeared on the site to offer soothing assurances.

Before approving the bill, Lawlor wrote, the panel over which he presides had agreed to “do a total re-write of the portions relating to ‘social networking’ sites. There are other parts of the bill which aren’t so bad, so we decided to vote it out of the committee rather than let it die.”

Political bloggers, Lawlor said, should “rest assured that nothing remotely resembling the language in the bill today will become law.”

Blumenthal concurred: “…we want to avoid any chilling effect on political discourse. I’m going to have another look at the language because I intend and believe that we have excluded political blogs.”

It is cheering to think that Lawlor is so concerned with legislative action that might violate part of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. One can never be too watchful, and in matters like this, one should take care to err on the side of the Constitution. The same amendment that has aroused Lawlor’s concern, taken in full, includes language preventing Congress – and, by extension, state legislatures – from passing laws prohibiting “the free exercise of religion.”

The same First Amendment that protects free speech by restricting the law making power of legislators also protects the capacity of religious bodies to practice their religion freely by restraining the heavy hand of law makers like Lawlor. The very same amendment that protects free speech also includes language prohibiting lawmakers from creating bills that “prohibit” the free exercise of religion.

Now, it so happens that there are presently other bills issuing from the committee Lawlor directs that turn on the First Amendment. Ghengis has objected to one of them and taken a pass on the others.

The bill most similar to the one that has aroused the antipathies of Ghengis, Lawlor, Blumenthal -- and freedom of speech lovers everywhere -- is the so called parental notification bill now before the legislature, which would require abortionists to notify parents or legal guardians before engaging in an operation considerably more risky than postings on internet sites.

Presumably – somewhere in the vast aura of court adduced rights that surround the constitution – there is a right of parents to advise and consent in the matter of medical operations on their children. If no such right can be detected in the surrounding aura from which judges have deduced a right to abortion, perhaps Attorney General Richard Blumenthal can be convinced to advise the state legislature to approve the parental notification bill. After all, the U.S. Constitution no where directly prohibits states from passing laws governing parental notification.

The Constitution does, however, contain in the plainest possible language a prohibition on the governing power that restricts impositions on the “free exercise (of religion).”

And yet, the state of Connecticut, nder the direction of Lawlor, is on the point of passing a bill that would force Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B pills to rape victims, even though Lawlor and other legislators who approve the bill know that administering the pill to women who test positively for ovulation violates the cannon laws of the Catholic Church and entails serious ecclesiastical penalties, not excluding excommunication.

In another Journal Inquirer piece, columnist Chris Powell has punctured the notion that pro-Plan B enthusiasts offered "compromise" legislation to sooth the anxieties of orthodox Catholics.

Perhaps Lawlor might be a little more accommodating if Catholic cannon law ethicists advising the church in this matter were bloggers fretting about the damage overly stringent laws might have on that part of the First Amendment they have decided to defend.
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