Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Report on Religious Liberty From the Belly of the Whale

I attended the Republican inspired informal hearing on Raised Bill 1098 on Thursday, called hastily after McDonald and Lawlor killed the hearing on THEIR bill.

Only a three days notice was allowed before the MacDonald/Lawlor hearing, and the bill was verbally disguised. Only later did legislators discover what was in the bill. By that time roof tiles were raining down on the heads of the judiciary committee members. It’s pretty clear they had hoped to reduce controversy at their hearing. The bill itself, invidiously targeted at Catholics, assumes there is no connection between finances and the mandate of the Catholic Church. Everyone agrees that the bill is unconstitutional.

In follow-up reports, Lawlor and McDonald imputed the content of the bill to some parishioners at St. John’s in Darien. That lie was barely out of their mouths when it began to fall apart. The news reports in the Journal Inquirer showing some parishioners repudiating the bill were splendid.

Who knows what the Courant was doing. But their commentators have been carrying water for McDonald and Lawlor all along anyway.

Having miserably failed to humiliate and weaken the Catholic Church, Lawlor and McDonald now are proposing, in concert with Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, to revisit older laws that enhance the liberties of all the churches in Connecticut.

Someone should throw an Aristotelian brick at these two. The essence of justice lies in treating equally things that are equal and in treating in an unequal manner things that are unequal. The body of laws in Connecticut enabling religious liberty should remain untouched. The laws Blumenthal wishes to review for their constitutionality are of this nature; they were passed by legislators who embraced religious liberty and wished to see it prosper. That is why some of the laws are different than others – because the churches to which they pertain are different. Those laws enhance religious liberty and they are just. The proposals of Lawlor and McDonald are inherently unjust – because they reduce the liberty of Catholics and are unconstitutional in their design.

Any law that enhances First Amendment religious rights -- the laws presently on the books -- cannot by definition be unconstitutional. The exemption in taxes is a case in point. That law must apply to all religious institutions or it cannot be constitutional. But religions are inherently different, and so laws that affect religious practices to be constitutional must be carefully crafted so that such laws do not impair the practice, which must in any case be legal. A law respecting the right of conscientious objection for Quakers for instance would be constitutional because it enhances an article of faith central to that faith. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that the essence of justice is to treat different things differently. There is nothing unconstitutional with the body of law in Connecticut that protects religious liberty. The thing is not broke – because those laws are an organic response by past legislators who wanted churches to be free and carefully designed the laws with it in mind to enhance the liberty afforded by the First Amendment to different churches in Connecticut.

There was a Boston professor there who spoke very eloquently to this point -- and it is one that Edmund Burke, among others, would have been anxious to defend.

I don’t want the attorney general to re-invent this wheel. It will be just another way to make my church less free.

The test in all these cases is the same: If the law enhances the liberty of the church, it is constitutional, because the First Amendment itself is designed with this end in view. The apostolic structure of the Catholic Church, central to its mission, is different than the corporatist structure of many protestant churches. The law that treats these differences in a similar manner is an ass.

Nothing is over. Even the offensive bill for which McDonald has offered an ingenious apology has not been killed. It may be resurrected by McDonals, Lawlor or someone else as an amendment slipped through a sleeping legislature.

Some at the informal hearing thought Lawlor and McDonald should be impeached. If it were possible, one commentator suggested, their licenses to practice law should be yanked. This is unlikely because the two are legislators and as such enjoy immunity against such punishments.

However, if they were impeached first, they then could be brought upon on a complaint before the Connecticut bar.


Anonymous said...

Connect the Dots:

“You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, so long as you continue a citizen thereof; and that you will faithfully discharge, according to law, the duties of the Office of State Representative to the best of your abilities; so help you God.”
(Oath of Office for Connecticut Legislators, )

"It being the right of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the Great Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and to render that worship in a mode consistent with the dictates of their consciences, no person shall by law be compelled to join or support, nor be classed or associated with, any congregation, church or religious association. No preference shall be given by law to any religious society or denomination in the state. Each shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights and privileges, and may support and maintain the ministers or teachers of its society or denomination, and may build and repair houses for public worship."
(Article 7, Connecticut Constitution)

"Sen. Andrew McDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said in a joint statement: 'In reality this bill was proposed and written by a group of faithful Catholic parishioners from Fairfield County who asked the Judiciary Committee to consider giving the subject a public hearing... We ourselves are questioning certain aspects of their proposal and even the constitutionality of the current law.'”
(Stamford Adocate 3/09/2009)

"Thomas Gallagher, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich, and Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, both confirmed they had asked the committee leaders late Monday to postpone Wednesday’s public hearing on the bill. 'My little idea was to simply add a few more lay trustees' to parish finance boards by amending the state’s Religious Corporation Act, Gallagher said. The measure prepared by committee leaders expanded lay representation on such boards but also excluded pastors, bishops, and other clergy from being voting members of such boards. 'It goes too far and has never been a part of my vision of possible changes,' Gallagher added.'We lay Catholics want a closer, co-fiduciary relationship with our pastors and bishops with respect to the temporal affairs of our parishes.'”
(Journal Inquirer 3/10/2009)

"If McDonald was trying to keep a lid on the Catholic Church legislation, he also left one of its main proponents -- Tom Gallagher of Greenwich -- in the dark until the last minute. Gallagher said he was surprised as anyone when McDonald contacted him last week to say the bill was being drafted."
(Stamford Advocate, 3/11/2009)

"Impeach: to remove from office especially for misconduct"
(Webster’s Dictionary)

Don Pesci said...

“Each shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights and privileges…”

That is the interesting and troubling section for me. If canonical regulations in the churches are different – and they are – in what sense can we speck of equal powers, equal rights and equal privileges? Surely the authors could not have intended this constitutional provision as a leveling instrument to make all the churches the same by making them all equal. That is the animation principle behind the Lawlor/McDonald bill: The financial structure of all the churches in Connecticut with henceforth have the character of a “corporation.”

Under such circumstances, how can we any longer speak of equal privileges, the bill having stripped the Catholic Church of the privilege of forming itself as an apostolic structure?

Equal here means that the churches will have the full privilege of choosing its own organic structure – which means the state should not make laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

I do not think Blumenthal, Lawlor or McDonald will be so charitable in their interpretations.

Featured Post

Occam’s Razor And The Middle East

The Middle East, we are told, is complex. That is true, but there is little point in making the complex more complex. We in the We...