Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Judiciary to Churches: Drop Dead

The state Judiciary Committee, headed by co-chairs Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor, seems to be unwilling or unable to accommodate religious proscriptions.

The panel recently rejected an amendment to a technical bill drafted to reshape laws allowing court-ordered same sex marriages.

The amendment to the enabling legislation, offered by Democratic Rep. Bruce Morris, would have insured that religious organizations would not be forced by law to participate in activities prohibited by some churches.

While the enabling legislation passed the committee on a 30-10 vote, the amendment that, according to one news account, would have “specified that organizations affiliated with religious groups wouldn’t be compelled to take actions that contradicted their religious convictions” was defeated by the Judiciary Committee. A few weeks ago, the panel put forth a bill that would have reformed the apostolic nature of the Catholic Church.

The two co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, both of whom are gay, have in the past locked horns with Catholic prelates on other religious questions.

The amendment was offered because it was feared the bill, which authorizes gay and lesbian marriages, might have forced religious institutions such as the Knights of Columbus, which rents out meeting-hall space to the general public, to accommodate a same-sex couple looking to host a marriage ceremony there.

The Knights are not alone in this regard. The First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield, which averages about 100 special events per year, according to its internet site, rents out its hall to various groups.

According to the news report, “Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, the Judiciary Committee’s vice chairwoman, said that while no clergy could be forced to witness or participate in a religious service against their convictions, allowing businesses to limit the sale of public goods and services on the basis of orientation would cross a dangerous line.”

There is a serpentine twist in this logic. Ms. Handley insists that no “business” should be permitted exceptions to the legislation before her committee. And then by voting down an amendment that implicitly makes a proper distinction between a business and a church, she opens the way for activities that the churches, following their precepts, wish to avoid. Apparently, the definition of a “church,” in Ms. Handley’s view, is limited to its clergy, not the laity. However, it is generally regarded that churches are the body of the faithful, which would include both the laity and clerics. If such is the case, laws that violate religious precepts are equally harmful to both.

George Bernard Shaw used to saw that every profession was a conspiracy against the laity. Distinctions of a kind preferred by the Judiciary Committee simply guarantee that the legislative conspiracy will injure only the laity, never the clerics.

The Judiciary Committee seems to have come round to the view that any legislation favoring religious institutions is, for some unexplained reason, unconstitutional. Nothing could be further from the truth. By prohibiting the US Congress from making laws favoring one religious faith above another and by offering constitutional assurances that the US Congress should make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the founders intended that diverse churches should prosper in this country from sea to shining sea. It does not add to the faithful prospects of any church when a legislature refuses to make legitimate accommodations towards that end.

The Judiciary Committee seems to have come round to the view that any legislation favoring religious institutions is, for some unexplained reason, unconstitutional. Nothing could be further from the truth. By prohibiting the US Congress from making laws favoring one religious faith above another and by offering constitutional assurances that the US Congress should make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the founders intended that diverse churches should prosper in this country from sea to shining sea. It does not add to the faithful prospects of any church when a legislature refuses to make legitimate accommodations towards that end.

On a non-related issue, the Judiciary Committee also approved a bill that will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill is not likely to survive Gov. Jodi Rell’s veto or House Minority Leader Larry Cafero’s objection: “What is the message we as legislators will send to them when we decriminalize marijuana?”

Mr. Cafero has not asked what the Judiciary Committee was high on when it recently attempted unsuccessfully to alter the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church.

Probably something more potent than marijuana.
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