Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Catholic Church Under Siege

Here’s a question no one seems willing to discuss: How often do legislative committees – the Ethics Committee, no less – start “investigations” on groups that are exercising their constitutional rights on the Capitol lawn?

Once, that I can think of -- here:

The state’s Ethics Committee is now “investigating” the Catholic Church with a view to determining whether the Diocese of Bridgeport, which paid for some buses to transport people to a rally on the Capitol lawn, is in violation of lobbying ordinances. The Catholic Church is suing the state to secure its constitutional rights.

There is some danger here that watchful citizens may lose sight of the trees because they are too close to the forest.

The Catholic Church has been under successful attack for some time by its natural enemies in the legislature, but one recent sally by the church’s opponents in the legislature has been beaten back by the church. Some people are keeping score, obviously.

The Judiciary Committee, headed by co-chairs Rep. Michael Lawyor and Sen. Andrew McDonald have been successful in forcing the church affiliated hospitals, which are opposed both to contraception and abortion, to provide their patients with a birth control pill the church regarded as an abortifacient. Under considerable pressure from the legislature and the media, the church has relented and agreed to provide the contraceptive devise, Plan B, to patients seeking care that have been raped. The Catholic Church unavailingly also opposed gay marriage, now permitted by law in Connecticut .

When the two chairs of the Judiciary Committee several weeks ago proposed a bill that would have abolished the apostolic structure of the Catholic Church by preventing bishops and other clerics from controlling the way funds are distributed in their parishes, there was, as might be expected, some push-back from Catholics. A massive rally and protest at the Capitol succeeded in killing a pestiferous and recklessly destructive bill, Raised Bill No. 1098, which, had it passed, would have resulted in the emasculation of the church. The bill, some Catholics hope, was defeated not so much because of the protest and rally, but because a sufficient number of legislators on both side of the aisle regarded it as a ruinous, constitutionally flawed bill.

After this struggle had been waged, some Catholics began to wonder whether it might not be more efficient for its opponents in the legislature to simply abolish the Catholic Church in Connecticut , Is it not better to be executed at once than to be stomped to death by furious geese?

The Ethics Committee now has stepped into this rat’s nest. And, assuming Connecticut citizens are still attentive to constitutional irregularities, the Catholic Church ought to be able similarly to beat back the Ethics Committee’s unconstitutional objections to its rally and protest.

The first right of Americans is the right to be free of pestiferous governmental institutions that would strip them of their imprescriptible, God given constitutional rights; among these rights are the rights to challenge the government through the exercise of free speech and to peacefully assemble for the purpose of petitioning their government for a redress of grievances. That is what happened at the rally.

The rally was a protest against an insufferable attack on constitutional religious rights. It was a political protest hastily organized by a church that is under unremitting attack for having defended its religious interests, and one cannot help but wonder where exactly in this most recent tiff between Connecticut’s government and the church such paragons of constitutional probity like Attorney General Blumenthal will come down in the struggle for basic constitutional rights. The protest, incidentally, was hastily organized because the Judiciary Committee, overseen by Lawlor and McDonald, had attempted to slide their bill past watchful eyes.

It should be very interesting to see where in this struggle the usual custodians of the First Amendment – which provides for freedom of speech and, in the very same sentence, assures the liberty of churches freely to exercise their religion – park their tents.

Blumenthal, whose relationship with constitutional rights is warm and cuddly, is by law required to defend those who are now assaulting both the Catholic Church and the Catholics and non-Catholics who turned out at the rally and protest; it’s his job to do so. But in the past, Blumenthal also has “advised” state agencies – and, depending on his humors, pretty much everyone else -- to drop oppressive measures that are constitutionally questionable. One wonders: Has Governor Jodi Rell asked Blumenthal to advise her whether the Ethics Commission should shelve its constitutionally objectionable “investigation?”

That would be just peachy.

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