Connecticut cancels Catholic Church control

posted at 4:10 pm on March 10, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

It’s remarkable what a little publicity can accomplish.  Take, for example, Connecticut lawmakers Mike Lawlor and Andrew McDonald, who pledged to support and defend the US Constitution as part of their public duties.  After their attempt to dictate the structure of the Catholic Church in Connecticut resulted in outrage and derision, they finally got around to reading the founding document:

Following the biggest political firestorm of the 2009 legislative session, a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday on the financial and administrative management of the Catholic Church has been canceled. The bill is dead for the rest of the legislative session.

As soon as word spread about the bill, the Legislative Office Building was flooded with telephone calls and e-mails on Monday. The bill, virtually overnight, became the hottest issue at the state Capitol.

The cancellation came less than 24 hours after Senate Republican John McKinney of Fairfield called for the cancellation, saying that his caucus was unanimously against the bill because they believe it is clearly unconstitutional.

It’s more than a belief.  The First Amendment makes that clear:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

After many people wondered aloud how Lawlor and McDonald managed to graduate their high-school civics class, they finally admitted that their bill to strip Catholic bishops of authority over parishes had, well, overreached — but they blamed Connecticut for their confusion:

For reasons that are unclear, Connecticut has had generations-old laws on the books singling out particular religions and treating them differently from other religions in our statutes.  That doesn’t seem right.

You’re just figuring that out?

In fact, many of our existing corporate laws dealing with particular religious groups appear to us to be unconstitutional under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If that is correct, any changes to that law would likely also be unconstitutional.

No kidding!  And your solution was to expand those laws?

With that in mind, it would serve no useful purpose to have a conversation about changing the laws that govern existing Roman Catholic corporations until we know if any of these existing laws are constitutional.

Did it not occur to Lawlor and McDonald that legislating the structure of a religion is not a useful purpose for government at all, and not just when they’ve discovered that they goofed by expanding unenforced and unenforceable laws on their books?  In what way does the state of Connecticut have any “useful purpose” in designing church management structures?

They’re embarrassed, but they still haven’t learned why.  (via David Freddoso at The Corner, who scathingly refers to this as the Henry VIII Bill)  The Anchoress has more.

Update: Some in the comments say that Lawlor and McDonald only have to worry about the state constitution, not the federal Constitution.  I beg to differ — here’s the oath of office, emphasis mine:

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.

States cannot infringe on rights enumerated in the Constitution.  That explicitly includes the right to free speech, assembly, redress of grievances, bearing arms, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and protection against self-incrimination, among others.  Any state law that infringes on these are unconstitutional and invalid.


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Comment pages: 1 2

it’s kinda simple: rescind the privileged tax status of religion.

eh on March 10, 2009 at 10:34 PM

Ah, another person that doesn’t know the difference between a “right” and a “privilege.” The church has no “privileged” tax status. Concerning the right, read your constitution.

Maxx on March 11, 2009 at 12:10 PM

“[The Roman Catholic Church should be] the religion of the state to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” -Pope Pius IX

mankai on March 11, 2009 at 4:22 PM

man with black hat: A Bridgeport Too Far

manwithblackhat on March 11, 2009 at 5:43 PM

If I were to read the written Constitution in a vacuum, ignoring all case law and relying entirely on original intent, I’d have to agree with the commenters who said that the federal Constitution does not apply here. As others have noted already, the First Amendment applies by its terms only to Congress, not the states. The Fourteenth Amendment does apply to the states, of course, but does not say what the “privileges or immunities” are that it protects. The most intuitive reading is that any individual right secured by the Constitution is a protected “privilege or immunity,” while any structural limitation on government itself is not. This would mean that the free speech, the free assembly and the free exercise of religion clauses would all be incorporated, but the Establishment Clause would not be. As a practical matter, though, that train left the station a long time ago, and only one of today’s nine Supreme Court Justices (Thomas) takes it seriously. [OK, possibly three; Roberts and Alito weren't on the court yet the last time Justice Thomas opined that the Establishment Clause "resists incorporation," so for all we know either or both of them might have joined his decision if they were.]

Xrlq on March 11, 2009 at 10:40 PM

Comment pages: 1 2