USCCB News Release
March 10, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bill Endangers Catholic Church, Religious Liberty of All
Zeroing in on Catholic Church Unconstitutional
State Interference in Church Governance Violates Freedom of Religion
WASHINGTON—A bill in the Connecticut State Legislature to restructure the Catholic Church is unconstitutional and attacks the Catholic Church and other religious denominations, said Anthony Picarello, General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"This bill is not even close to constitutional," Picarello said. "It violates the First Amendment in at least two different ways."
"It targets the Catholic Church explicitly and exclusively, and it inserts the State into theological controversies regarding how the Church should be structured and governed," he said.
The bill follows the conviction of a Connecticut pastor, Father Michael Jude Fay, for fraud.
Anthony Picarello compared the bill to laws from America's anti-Catholic era and its Know Nothing Party. Even were one trying to address a problem "the bill is a vastly disproportionate response," he said.
"This bill goes far beyond swatting a fly with a sledge hammer," he said. "It takes the sledgehammer to the whole house, using the fly as an excuse."
Picarello made his comments after the state's Judiciary Committee on March 5 introduced Raised Bill No. 1098, described as "An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations." The bill expressly relates to the Catholic Church and would force the Church to alter its structure in violation of its own religious principles. It would exclude the bishop and other clergy from positions of authority they must occupy and require laypeople to occupy positions of authority they may not.
Picarello's entire response follows.
Raised Bill No. 1098 represents an attack not only on the Catholic Church in Connecticut, but on the Church nationwide, and on the foundational principles of religious liberty that have served Americans of all faiths so well for so long.
This bill is not even close to constitutional. It violates the First Amendment in at least two different ways, both of which would be apparent to any first-year law student: It targets the Catholic Church explicitly and exclusively, and it inserts the State into theological controversies regarding how the Church should be structured and governed.
Although the proponents of the bill appear to know little about the U.S. Constitution, they appear to know much about the history of the Church in the United States, and especially what laws have been used to make it suffer. Laws of precisely this sort have a well-established, yet shameful, pedigree in our country. In the Nineteenth Century, similar laws were used to foment schism in the Church, often with the encouragement and support of notoriously anti-Catholic groups, such as the Know Nothing Party.
One hopes that this is not the purpose of those proposing the bill today. But the stated purpose of the bill—concern over "misappropriation of funds by religious corporations"—is implausible on its face. A priest in Connecticut was recently convicted of fraud, but the existing system worked in catching him and bringing him to justice.
Even if this were a genuine concern, this bill is a vastly disproportionate response. This bill goes far beyond swatting a fly with a sledge hammer – it takes the sledgehammer to the whole house, using the fly as an excuse.
In short, Catholics in Connecticut, Catholics all across the United States, and all people who care about religious liberty, should voice their opposition to Raised Bill No. 1098.