HARTFORD, Conn. (Catholic Online) – On Friday, May 29, 2009, the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was forced to ‘take on Caesar’. The relationship between “Caesar” (secular authority) and the Church has made for some extraordinary history. What is happening in Connecticut is now an important part of it. The Diocese has asked a Federal Judge to intervene and prevent the State Attorney General and the Office of State Ethics from compelling it to register as a lobbyist or face sanctions.
The effort is important for the Church in America, given the hostility toward the positions of the Catholic Church as our culture continues its descent into secularism and relativism. That descent involves rejecting some building blocks of the American experiment which were themselves derived from the influence of the Church. For example; recognition of the existence of inalienable rights endowed by a Creator like the Right to Life, a respect for the primacy of marriage and the family founded upon it as the first society and the right to the exercise of religious freedom, free speech, and free association. Make no mistake that is what is at stake in the case pending in the United States District Court, District of Connecticut styled “The Bridgeport Roman catholic Diocesan Corporation v. Thomas K. Jones, et.al.” Here are some excerpts from the Civil Complaint:
“Plaintiff, a Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church (the "Plaintiff' or the “Diocese"), brings this action to stop Connecticut state officials from chilling the exercise of its constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion. The Defendants, officials of the State of Connecticut Office of State Ethics (the "OSE"), are applying Connecticut's lobbying statute (1) to penalize the Plaintiff for failing to register as a lobbyist before participating in a rally and making statements on its website urging its members to oppose legislation in the Connecticut General Assembly, and (2) to force the Plaintiff to register as a lobbyist, file periodic reports of its expenditures, and submit to ongoing audits by the Defendants as a result of its participation in the rally and the statements on its website."
"Defendants' extension of the Connecticut lobbying statute to these basic communicative activities - none of which involve traditional lobbying and all of which the Plaintiff undertook to oppose unconstitutional legislation that struck at its right of religious self-governance - would impose on the Plaintiff fines, substantial burdens, and intrusive state oversight. Defendants' application of the state lobbying laws is pressuring the Plaintiff, which from time to time is compelled by its faith to take stands on legislation, to tailor its communications and scale back its religious mission to avoid being treated as a "lobbyist." The Plaintiff asks that this Court enjoin the Defendants' unconstitutional application of the Connecticut lobbying statute.”
Raised Bill 1098
“The proposed legislation that triggered the communicative activities by the Plaintiff on which the Defendants are focusing was introduced by the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly as ''Raised Bill 1098" in March 2009. Raised Bill 1098 sought to strip the Plaintiffs religious leaders of authority over the internal governance and financial affairs of its parishes, in an unfair and blatantly unconstitutional attack on the Plaintiff and other Roman Catholic Dioceses in Connecticut. Raised Bill 1098 would have reorganized Catholic parishes to operate in much the same way as a Protestant Congregational Church, imposing a structure that does not reflect the tradition and faith of the Roman Catholic Church."
"Among other things, Raised Bill 1098 would have deprived Roman Catholic Bishops and pastors of voting membership on the governing bodies of the corporations that control parish property in Connecticut, would have required that those governing bodies be elected exclusively from the lay members of each congregation, and would have required the pastor of each congregation to submit to the direction of the lay governing body. The bill would also have empowered Connecticut's Attorney General to scrutinize the financial affairs of Roman Catholic parishes in Connecticut. The bill did not target any other religious denomination. Upon Plaintiffs information and belief, every lawyer (apart from some in the General Assembly) who commented publicly on Raised Bill 1098 agreed that it was unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including the noted First Amendment practitioner, Floyd Abrams.”
“In response to the introduction of Raised Bill 1098, the Plaintiff moved quickly to defend its constitutional rights. Given only a few days notice of a Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill scheduled for March 11, 2009, the Plaintiff posted on its website and requested that its pastors read at weekend services statements informing Catholics (and others who might attend those services or view the Plaintiffs website) of the unconstitutional features of Raised Bill 1098 and urging them to oppose the bill. Some of these statements encouraged members of the Plaintiff's parishes to attend a rally in front of the State Capitol to be held on March 11, the same day as the scheduled Judiciary Committee public hearing on the bill. Statements on the Plaintiff's website also encouraged members of the Church (and any others who might view the website) to contact legislators to express opposition to the bill."
"At the rally held in front of the State Capitol on March 11, the Most Reverend William E. Lori, the Bishop of the Diocese, along with Bishops of the other Dioceses within Connecticut, spoke against the attempt to subvert the Church's chosen governance structure reflected in Raised Bill 1098. Other speakers likewise criticized the bill and emphasized the importance of the principles of religious freedom and separation between church and state enshrined in the First Amendment…”
Bishop William Lori is correct in claiming that the State is violating the constitutional rights of the Diocese through efforts to compel it to register as a lobbyist. It is a violation of the Constitutional protections afforded every American under the First Amendment. However it is even more repugnant because it is targeted at a particular Church, the Catholic Church. Caesar (the State of Connecticut) has determined that the moral positions of the Catholic Church, such as her insistence upon the dignity of every human life and support of marriage, are “political” because they are not popular in certain political circles. Thus the State is trying to silence the voice of the Church. Bishop William Lori is courageously defending not only the rights of his Diocese but the rights of every Catholic Diocese in America. The hostile actions of the State of Connecticut constitute anti-Catholic bigotry.
This is not the first time in American history that Catholics have been singled out. For example, the “Know-Nothing Party” flourished in America between 1852 and 1856 and was rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry. America was the home of a nativist movement that opposed the immigrations of that era, especially from Ireland and Germany. The influx of new Americans brought many Catholics “yearning to be free” as promised by Lady Liberty. Some Americans did not want us here. At the beginning it was predominantly a movement of Democrats but then shifted to include Republicans as well. Then as now, the political labels were a problem. After all what characterizes a political party is its ideas and the people who lead it. This movement was known as the “know-nothings” because its members answered "I know nothing" when asked about their true anti-Catholic aims. They hid their bigotry behind such denials, with a wink and a nod.
The Roman authorities charged the first Christians with “odium humani generis” (hatred of the human race), a political charge. It is similar to the way in which some charge Catholics with creating a “climate of hate” because they defend life and marriage. Some in Rome had lost respect for the dignity of all human life. They practiced primitive forms of abortion as well as “exposure”, the killing of unwanted newborns. The Emperor Nero was a libertine, overt in his promiscuous homosexual behavior. Some historians indicate his having taken a male “wife”. History shows a correlation between the growth of hostility toward Christians and the moral decline of the Republic. The insistence of the Christians on the dignity of every human person and the compelling witness of their faithful monogamous marriages transformed ancient Rome. But it was not without opposition, hostility and persecution.
So it may be again in what might become a new Rome. Out in front in our age, speaking truth and refusing to worship the false gods of this new Rome are faithful Catholics. The government has not charged us with “hatred of the human race” but there is a growing effort to brand us as “extremist” and “intolerant.” What is happening in Connecticut is a direct, anti-Catholic, unconstitutional abuse of the power of the State. State efforts to silence the Voice of the catholic Church must not go unopposed. Bishop Lori has taken on Caesar. We need to support him with our prayer and our Catholic Action.
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