According to the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause, the government has no business dictating to religious organizations how they should structure themselves.  In Connecticut, though, some lawmakers seem to have skipped over the Constitution.   A new bill will require Catholic parishes and dioceses — and only Catholics — to organize their parish leadership in a way that pleases the Connecticut legislature (via The Corner):

The Lawlor-and-McDonald-controlled Judiciary Committee has introduced Raised Bill 1098, a bill aimed specifically at the Catholic Church, which would remove the authority of the bishop and pastor over individual parishes and put a board of laymen in their place. You can read Rep. Lawlor’s defense of this bill, Bridgeport Bishop William Lori’s response and more here.

We need as big a turnout as possible for the public hearing on Wednesday, especially from non-Catholics. As Ben Franklin told the Founders while they were signing the Declaration of Independence, “either we hang together or we will all hang separately.” Legislators need to understand that this bill is an attack on everyone’s religious liberty.

Lest you think this is a joke, American Papist has Lawlor’s response to criticism.  He admits that the state legislature wants to dictate the structure of this volunteer organization, but says he’s got his reasons:

… the current state statutes governing Roman Catholic corporations … were enacted in 1955. SB 1098 is a proposal to make changes in that law, which was suggested by parishioners who were the victims of theft of their funds in several parishes, and these parishioners feel that the state’s existing Roman Catholic Corporate laws prevented them from dealing with the misuse and theft of funds.

I agree with you that the whole notion of having a statute governing the church seems like an intrusion on the separation of church and state, but the current law does that already. Perhaps we should repeal the whole thing, but if we are going to have a corporate law of this type, it probably should make sure there cannot be deception of parishioners.

It more than seems like an intrusion on separation of church and state, Mr. Lawlor.  It’s the real deal.  The church’s defenders note that the state legislature in Connecticut currently runs on a $1.5 billion deficit and hardly has any room to talk about how private organizations handle their money.  But even apart from the hypocrisy, fraud and theft laws already apply to religious organizations.  If theft or fraud occurred, then parishioners already have recourse in the law.  “Misuse”, though, is an awfully broad lever for government intervention in a religious organization’s hierarchy.  No one collects donations to a parish at the barrel of a gun, unlike the state legislature.  If parishioners don’t like the way a parish spends its money, they can find another parish or simply stop donating money to the one they attend.

The bill itself is a piece of work:

(a) A corporation may be organized in connection with any Roman Catholic Church or congregation in this state, by filing in the office of the Secretary of the State a certificate signed by the archbishop or bishop and the vicar-general of the archdiocese or of the diocese in which such congregation is located and the pastor and two laymen belonging to such congregation, stating that they have so organized for the purposes hereinafter mentioned. [Such archbishop or bishop, vicar-general and pastor of such congregation and, in case of the death or other disability of the archbishop or bishop, the administrator of the archdiocese or diocese for the time being, the chancellor of the archdiocese or diocese and the pastor of such congregation shall be members, ex officio, of such corporation, and, upon their death, resignation, removal or preferment, their successors in office shall become such members in their stead. The two lay members shall be appointed annually, in writing, during the month of January from the lay members of the congregation by a majority of the ex-officio members of the corporation; and three members of the corporation, of whom one shall be a layman, shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.]

(b) The corporation shall have a board of directors consisting of not less than seven nor more than thirteen 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.

In other words, bishops would no longer have power over the actions of the parishes.  That’s the Connecticut legislature’s vision of Roman Catholicism, but in America, government doesn’t get to structure religious organizations to suit itself.  That, in fact, is a form of fascism that we routinely decry in other countries.  The State Department objects to China’s insistence on picking Catholic bishops itself to suit their political oppression of religion, and Lawlor’s motion would find a welcome in Beijing as another means to the same end: state control of Catholicism.

And why only the Catholic Church?  If Lawlor wanted to improve the lives of Connecticut residents, why not impose this structure on every religious organization?  I thought we’d fought the Know-Nothing anti-Catholic bigotry battles a long time ago, but apparently Lawlor is a nostalgic bigot as well as a fascist.

What happens when a Catholic Church defies this order?  Does the legislature send the police to the parish to shut them down?  Toss the pastor in prison?

The people of Connecticut should instead act to remove the lunatics who reported this bill out of committee.  In the meantime, follow the links to see how you can get your voice heard on this un-American piece of legislation.