In Connecticut, a “preposterously unconstitutional attack on Catholicism”

Catholic sites are up in arms, and rightly so, about a measure called S.B. 1098, introduced March 5 in the Connecticut legislature, which would by law remove control of Roman Catholic parishes from bishops and place them instead in the hands of lay panels of not less than seven nor more than 13 members, who would be legally assured full control over most aspects of church management other than religious doctrine itself.

It’s still far from clear who’s sponsoring or promoting this measure; it’s a “Raised Bill”, a bit of local terminology with which I’m unfamiliar. The National Rifle Association, discussing an entirely different bill in Hartford the other day, says the “raised” terminology “means the concept was discussed and the committee voted in favor of drafting a bill for consideration”. Whoever is responsible for it, Rick Hills is right in dismissing it as “preposterous” and so obviously unconstitutional as to raise no issues of legal interest. The issue it raises instead is: how can lawmakers in one of the nation’s most highly educated states understand so little about America’s basic premises of religious liberty? Despite cries of anti-Catholicism, incidentally, there are a number of hints in the coverage that the bill may reflect the views of disgruntled lay Catholics, not persons affiliated with other religious traditions or with none at all. So there isn’t necessarily anything paradoxical in the fact of this proposal coming up in one of the nation’s most Catholic states, any more than there is a paradox in the prevalence of anti-clericalism in countries of overwhelming nominal Catholic affiliation like Mexico and Italy.

Speaking of legislative idiocy, Rep. Todd Thomsen has introduced a resolution in the Oklahoma legislature deploring the University of Oklahoma’s extension of a speaking invitation to Richard Dawkins (via Ron Bailey).

P.S. According to former Connecticut resident Dave Zincavage of Never Yet Melted, the meaning of “raised bill” is that “no individual member took the responsibility for sponsoring it, but rather a legislative committee (in this case the Judiciary Committee) discussed the idea and the committee then voted in favor of drafting a bill.” And more: The Greenwich Time (via Christopher Fountain) reports that Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the bill “at the request of members of St. John Church on the Post Road in Darien, where the former pastor, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, was convicted of stealing from parishioners over several years.”

About Walter Olson

Fellow at a think tank in the Northeast specializing in law. Websites include Former columnist for Reason and Times Online (U.K.), contributor to National Review, etc.
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