The Corner

Connecticut Update: Anatomy of a Bigoted Bill and a Vindictive Process

The furor in Connecticut over a kyboshed anti-Church bill should peak today when Catholic activists descend on Hartford (where Republican lawmakers have arranged a forum for well-deserved venting). But the post-debacle homina-homina-homina by Democrats is amazing to watch.

As Republican Sen. Michael McLachlan said from the get-go, “The real purpose of this bill is payback to the bishops and pastors of the Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut for opposing gay marriage” — for which the state’s two leading proponents just happen to be Judiciary Committee co-chairmen Rep. Mike Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald.

Things are tightly run in Hartford. Committee chairmen as appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the House Speaker (Chris Donovan) and Senate President (Donald Williams). No bills move without their approval, or over their opposition. Caught short by the uproar from pewsitters, a furiously back-peddling Donovan, reports today’s Connecticut Post:

. . . said the Catholics are welcome to celebrate their freedom of religion, but he asked Republicans to avoid pouring political gasoline on a volatile issue.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Donovan said. “We join them in opposing this bill and joining the people who may come up here tomorrow, to say that we welcome them and celebrate with them, a stand for religious freedom.”

Donovan said many lawmakers were surprised there were any religious statutes. “I think we really need to take a good look at them,” he said. “They were done in a different era, and we should look to see what they say.”

Oh, so this affair, launched by two spiteful Democrat committee chairmen, wasn’t partisan, Mr. Speaker? Senator McLachlan (a blogger) opines:

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Speaker Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) said yesterday about the Democratic co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee’s attack on religious freedoms! Donovan asked Republicans to avoid pouring gasoline on a volatile political issue.

So Donovan is the Democratic Party’s fire chief now. He thinks Republican lawmakers should not host an informal hearing to allow Catholics to speak their mind now that the Democrats started this major conflagration and abruptly cancelled a formal hearing on SB1098.

Donovan responded to news the Catholics are still rallying at the Capitol today by saying, “we join them in opposing this bill…” Oh really, Fire Chief Donovan, where was your Speaker’s fire hose when this fire was kindling in the back room of the Judiciary Committee? Representative Lawlor is your appointment as co-chair of the committee and your responsibility.

Fire Chief Donovan’s comments raises another big question about the Democrats’ out-of-control legislative leadership this session. Where is Senate President Donald Williams? He appointed Senator McDonald (the Democrats’ apparent leader on SB1098) the other Democratic co-chair of Judiciary. Does this mean Williams is out of touch with his appointee’s incendiary politics?

Payback is a beeyach. And it’s bound to go on, for each and every Democrat legislator who stood by, silent and free of outrage (the kind they can muster up in their sleep when the mood fits), while this horror was unfolding. As to the substance of the bill — which seeks to take control of Church finances out of the hands of pastors and bishops — and how such tactics been employed in the past by bigoted anti-Catholic legislators, today’s Connecticut Post carries an excellent opinion essay by Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus. Here’s some of it:

“Free exercise” of religion includes the way a church chooses to organize. Strip the bishops and priests of their role in financial matters and their message becomes subject to the approval of those holding the purse.

Historically, under trustee control, not only was pastoral authority practically eliminated, but the church’s message was utterly dependent upon the congregation’s cultural and political condition. Under such a law, it is not too much to say that the Roman Catholic Church would no longer be “catholic.” Boards — independent of their bishops — could create parishes more unique than universal. Some denominations prefer such a set-up, but the point is we must remain free to choose.

It has been more than 150 years since a state was misguided enough to attempt such legislation, and for good reason.

In 1855, just over the border in New York, the Know-Nothings scored a victory with the passage of the Putnam Bill in that state’s legislature. This bill forced trusteeism on the Catholic Church, and created serious legal problems for its administration.

It also presented the same fiction as the current bill: Priests and bishops should focus only on matters of faith, while boards from which they were excluded would be better suited to govern all other matters.

The Putnam Bill was repealed in 1863, when New York’s need for Catholic recruits for the Union Army mattered more to the state legislature than continuing its campaign against the Catholic Church.

But the committee-raised bill in Connecticut would turn the clock back more than 150 years. We must not return to the darkest period for religious freedom in our country’s history — a time marked by bigotry and intolerance.

Though the bill’s authors have inserted language that claims that bishops and priests would retain their authority on matters of faith — as legislators did in New York 150 years ago — without the authority to make practical decisions, matters of faith can easily become casualties.

The lesson from the 19th century is that the power to impose structures that grant or take away authority of church leaders at the discretion of government officials is the power to intimidate and ultimately to destroy.

Poor Connecticut. The nation’s 7th largest Catholic state, whose voters keep electing this class of lawmakers — somehow “liberal” just doesn’t begin to get close to an appropriate descriptive — who loathe the faith of a third of its populace (and who are probably not too keen about the other two-thirds either).

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