Friday, March 27, 2009

Blumie and Me: A Matter of Opinion

Monday, March 23, 2009 1:37:56

Dear Mr. Pesci,

I write regarding a gross factual error in your recent column in the Greenwich Citizen on a proposed bill concerning the finances of the Roman Catholic Church. Your column completely misstates and misrepresents my position on this proposal. In fact, the position you attribute to me is the exact opposite of the one I have taken.

Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.

Fortunately, the proposal now appears to be dead, its supporters having effectively withdrawn it.

I respectfully request that you issue a correction and edit any future versions of the column -- as well as posts on your website -- to accurately reflect my position and public statements on this bill.

Sincerely Yours,

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

______________________________


Monday, March 23, 2009 8:58

Attorney General Blumenthal,

Your letter makes reference to a column, but does not identify the column.
So far as I know, the only column written by me and printed in the Greenwich paper is the one that begins:

“Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church.”

Is this the column you are objecting to?

Yours

Don Pesci

______________


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mr. Pesci,

This is Chris Hoffman in the ag’s press office. The article the ag is referring to is attached.

__________________


This is the column as it appeared in the Greenwich paper:

CAPITOL COMMENTARY/ Don Pesci

Pope Blumenthal, Bishops Lawlor, McDonald church reformers?
Posted: 03/13/2009 10:33:10 AM EDT

Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church.

The bill establishes for Catholics churches boards that would direct the finances of the churches and at the same time makes bishops and arch bishops powerless witnesses to the actions of the board.

According to the bill, "The corporation shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than 13 lay members. The archbishop or bishop of the diocese or his designee shall serve as an ex-officio member of the board of directors without the right to vote."

The stated purpose of the bill is "To revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church and provide for the investigation of the misappropriation of funds by religious corporations."

The powers of the board, enumerated in the bill, include establishing and approving budgets; managing the financial affairs of the corporation; providing for the auditing of the financial records of the corporation; developing and implementing strategic plans and capital projects and developing outreach programs and other services to be provided to the community.

Having deprived the bishops and archbishops of the Catholic Church of the power, right and authority to direct its finances, the bill amusingly notes in closing that "nothing in this section shall be construed to limit, restrict or derogate from any power, right, authority, duty or responsibility of the bishop or pastor in matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices."

The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a busy bee who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general's borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.

Worst of all, the bill is church specific. The title of the bill is "An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations," and the opening line of the bill reads, "A corporation may be organized in connection with any Roman Catholic Church or congregation in this state."

The first rule of law, more ancient than constitutions, is that laws should be general rather than specific, since specific bills tend to be regarded as punitive, affecting, in this case, one church in Connecticut rather than all religious institutions in the state.

As lawmakers, both Blumenthal and the co-chairs of the state judiciary committee, Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald both know, or should know, that "The movement of progressive societies," in the words of Sir Henry Maine (Ancient Law, London 1861) "has hitherto been a movement from status to contract."

And they must know that the "true contrast to a reign of status," in the words of Fredrich Hayak (The Constitution of Liberty) "is the reign of general and equal laws, of the rules which are the same for all, or, as we might say, of the rule of leges, in the original meaning of the Latin word for laws - leges, that is, as opposed to priv-leges."

The current bill brazenly targets a specific religious sub group (Catholics) rather than the proper general category (religious organizations of all kinds).
There are two reasons for writing specific laws: the first is to grant a privilege to a favored group. And the second is to punish the specific group for which the law was written. That is likely in this case. The law removes from Catholic bishops and archbishops a right of the church that the law does not remove from, say, Episcopalians, Jews, etc, other members of the sub group to which the specific law does not apply.

One newspaper reported that the bill was written in response to a misuse of funds in a Darien church whose gay pastor lavished expensive gifts on his boyfriend, a problem settled several months ago without assistance from Raised Bill 1098.
Several questions beg to be answered. If this law is a solution to a problem, what is the problem to which the church specific law is the solution? Why is the bill written to apply only to the Catholic Church and not all other religious affiliations? Who suggested and/or wrote the legislation?

Do not Blumenthal, Lawlor, McDonald, et al regard invidious specific rather than general laws as a profound violation of the rule of law, which holds that laws to be just must be general in nature?

Who died and elected these guys pope?

Don Pesci is a Vernon-based writer. E-mail: donaldpesci@sbcglobal.net.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:42 AM

Attorney General Blumenthal,

Your e-mail to me complains of “a gross factual error” in the column printed in the Greenwich Citizen paper that begins “Serious questions have been raised concerning the language of Raised Bill 1098. This is a bill that essentially compels a re-formation of Catholic Church authority, which now resides in its bishops, archbishops and the pope, considered to be the head of the Catholic Church…”

You are mentioned three times in the column as follows:

1)“The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a busy nuisance who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general’s borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.”

2 “As law makers, both Blumenthal and the co-chairs of the state judiciary committee, Michael Lawlor and Andrew McDonald both know, or should know, that ‘The movement of progressive societies,’ in the words of Sir Henry Maine (Ancient Law, London 1861) ‘has hitherto been a movement from status to contract.’ And they must know that the ‘true contrast to a reign of status,’ in the words of Fredrich Hayak (The Constitution of Liberty) ‘is the reign of general and equal laws, of the rules which are the same for all, or, as we might say, of the rule of leges, in the original meaning of the Latin word for laws – leges, that is, as opposed to priv-leges…’”

3) “We do not know on whose behalf this disgraceful bill was promulgated, but they should be asked a few questions: If this law is a solution to a problem, what is the problem to which this law is the solution? Why is the bill necessary for the Catholic Church and not for all other religious affiliations? Who suggested and/or wrote the legislation? Do not Blumenthal, Lawlor, McDonald et al regard invidious specific rather than general laws as a profound violation of the rule of law, which holds that laws to be just must be general in nature?”

You object that the “column completely misstates and misrepresents my position on this proposal. In fact, the position you attribute to me is the exact opposite of the one I have taken, and add “Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

Re-reading the three paragraphs in which your name appears, I cannot agree with you that the column “completely misstates and misrepresents” your opinion on the proposal, and this for a very good reason: The column does not state your opinion on the proposal.

Graph 1 asserts a fact – “The bill providentially orders the board it has invented from whole cloth to report financial irregularities to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal” – and an opinion – “a busy nuisance who apparently has enough time on his hands to stand in for prelates of the Catholic Church, yet another power added to the attorney general’s borderless reservoir of powers, few of which are enumerated in his job description.”

You have not, in your e-mail to me, asked me to withdraw any opinions, for which I am grateful, because my opinion columns do contain numerous opinions for which, I hope you will agree, I need not offer corrections. The fact reported in Graph 1) is correct.

Graph 2) asserts that you “should know” something I am pleased to know from your e-mail you may know. The graph says you should know that the movement in progressive societies is from privilege to contract. You write, “When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion.” The constitution is, among other things, a contract, and I am dizzy with gladness that you realize the importance of contracts in our society. This graph mentions neither the constitution nor the First Amendment. The reference is to what some have called the “rule of law.”

Graph 3 is nothing but a series of questions, and questions are not thumbscrews; still less are they factual assertions.

Incidentally, while the blog and column printed in the Greenwich Citizen paper does not mention the Constitution or the First Amendment, there is another blog and column printed in a different newspaper that does, and it mentions your name in connection with First Amendment rights. This is the reference:

“To be sure, the three days that the co-chairs of the judiciary committee allowed for public pre-hearing discussion did not allow Blumenthal to do his usual primp-walk before television cameras, but a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests Blumenthal is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution, even to the Catholic Church. The First Amendment generously permits religious institution to pursue their way in the world unhampered by possibly vindictive legislators and hungry lawyers, who would love to dive head first into Catholic treasuries, a prospect this bill makes easier.

“Said Blumenthal, hours before the hearing, ‘I think what this amendment has revealed is a much broader and bigger issue relating to the existing statutory framework, which clearly is fraught with grave constitutional issues. There’s a very strong argument that this entire section relating to governance and structure of religious institutions violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.’

“Blumenthal’s appearance at the hearing should have been compelled, under subpoena if necessary, so that he might be asked under oath how far in advance of the hearing he knew that Lawlor and McDonald had recruited him to play Pope in their scheme to reform the Catholic Church and deprive it of its constitutional rights.”

That blog and column – not printed, so far as I know in the Greenwich paper -- clearly states your opinion on the bill with respect to First Amendment rights: “…a statement he gave to the Advocate suggests Blumenthal is not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution…”

That bog and column was written within hours of my seeing it in the Advocate on line, and it was sent out to various newspapers almost immediately after it was posted on the blog site. The blogs and columns here mentioned were posted on the blog site within a day of each other.

As you know from your time in journalism on a college law review, columns are a little bit like sunbeams: Once they are sent out and printed, they cannot be recalled. And as you may also realize, writers do not tell editors what they may print. It is still a free country, sort of. One newspaper prints this, another that. But I know – and now you know – that I did mention that “you were not really disposed to shred the religious protections afforded by the US Constitution.” May I assume you do not wish me to correct this opinion?

Editors do make provisions for commentary on columns. I do not know of any newspaper in the state of Connecticut that would not allow you to comment in the pages of their paper on any column written by any columnist, including me.

I’m sure, if you wrote a column in the Greenwich paper criticizing a column written by me, it would be printed. And perhaps the paper would show me the courtesy of a reply to your column castigating me for misrepresenting “facts” you have yet to identify.

Virtually all the blog sites I know, including my own, have comment sections where it not unusual to find orderly disputation, as well as corrections written by commentators.

You write in your e-mail to me:

“Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

This was acknowledged in both a column and a blog written within two days of each other.

“Fortunately,” you continue, “the proposal now appears to be dead, its supporters having effectively withdrawn it.

"I respectfully request that you issue a correction and edit any future versions of the column -- as well as posts on your website -- to accurately reflect my position and public statements on this bill.”

I am very happy to hear and print on the blog site, with your permission, an addendum stating that neither you nor your office “played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly. When asked about the proposal, I have stated consistently and repeatedly that it appears to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Far from seeking the powers or role such a proposal might authorize, I have explicitly rejected them.”

I am pleased to know that neither you nor your staff “played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.”

That is news to me. I do not recall reading that disavowal in any news account on the subject of Raised Bill No. 1098, but I am always pleased to print fresh news.

I do want to call to your attention that several prominent news stories on the now killed bill attributed to you a very prominent role in the architecture of Raised Bill No. 1098 – because the bill assigned you the responsibility as sitting judge and jury – and, as I stated in both blogs and columns, Pope -- in any final determination concerning complaints made against the Catholic Church by a board that the bill set up to replace the Apostolic structure of the Catholic Church.

I do believe this fact is correct, and any reasonable reader, reviewing all the blogs and columns I have written on Raised Bill No. 1098, would agree that this fact was at the center of every blog and every column I’ve so far written on the subject.

Is it your position that neither you nor anyone in your office, including your communications director, knew that you were assigned this position in the now killed bill?

And in what newspaper did you unambiguously decline to accept this exalted position because you believed Raised Bill No. 1098 was in violation of the First Amendment?

Is there any communication between you and Mr. Lawlor or Mr. McDonald that says something of this sort: “Look Lawlor, look McDonald, your bill is unconstitutional, and I reject unambiguously any role you have assigned me in that bill to facilitate the destruction of the Apostolic structure of the Catholic Church?”

A statement of that kind from you would have killed this bill at its birth. Does anyone doubt that if you had sent such a communication to Mr. Lawlor or Mr. McDonald – and, per your usual practice, to select members of the press – that Raised Bill No. 1098 would not have survived a day or an hour or a minute after the receipt of your communication and its publication in an appropriate venue that respects facts and is able to distinguish them from opinions?

Just to review:

I deny that there are misstated facts in the column you mention in your letter to me.

Your request that I point out that you regard Raised Bill No. 1098 as unconstitutional has already been satisfied, without your prompting, in a column and blog that was written and sent to newspapers within one day of another column in the Greenwich paper the subject of which was the relation of Raised Bill No. 1098 to natural law theory, not constitutional law.

With your permission, I would be happy to include in an appropriate venue your statement that “Neither I nor my office played any role in drafting or introducing this legislation, nor were we consulted before it was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.”

Yours,

Don Pesci

__________________


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Pesci,

The attorney general asked me to send you the following email:

Dear Mr. Pesci,

Thank you for your March 24, 2009 response to my email of March 23, 2009. I am disappointed that you decline to correct the glaring factual errors in your column that appeared in the Greenwich Citizen.

Regarding your request to publish my email, you may do so on the condition that you post or print it in its entirety.

Sincerely Yours,

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

Chris Hoffman

Policy and Communications Advisor

Office of the Attorney General

__________________________


Thursday, March 26, 2009 7:52:05 AM

Att. General Blumenthal,

Your response to my response is, as the lawyers would have it, non-responsive, and I think any further response from me about the column to which you have taken exception would be needlessly repetitive.

This communication, however, would be glaringly incomplete if I did not register my profound surprise that neither you nor your staff were consulted before Raised Bill No. 1098 was submitted or raised for a hearing in the General Assembly.

I believe your assertion to be true – though I do not recall reading this disclaimer in news account of the controversy before the column was sent to the Greenwich paper – and I wonder about two things:

1) Why didn’t Mr. McDonald contact you regarding his bill? If the bill were a Shakespearian play – say, Hamlet – you would be playing the part of Hamlet in the play, so central is your role in Raised Bill No. 1098. In the bill, which reorganizes the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, you are assigned the role of decider-in-chief. As you no doubt are well aware from reading the column to which you have objected, the bill replaces the present apostolic structure of the Catholic Church with a corporation board, similar to that in Protestant church. The purpose of the board is to receive complaints regarding finances, referring to you the legally questionable ones. In these matters, the bill would give to you the authority to settle such disputes – a role now assigned to bishops and archbishops and popes.

2) Were you or your staff contacted regarding Raised Bill No. 1098 at any time prior to its withdrawal?

I am thinking of doing another column on the subject – now that Mr. McDonald has apologized for having failed to communicate adequately with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee -- and would not want to misrepresent your answers to these two questions.

I would appreciate a prompt, non-dismissive, reply.


Yours,

Don
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