The Corner

Woolsey’s Threat Against the Bishops

Representative Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, attacks the bishops in a Politico op-ed: “I expect political hardball on any legislation as important as the health care bill. I just didn’t expect it from the United States Council [sic, it’s “Conference”] of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Who elected them to Congress?” She claims that they “seemed to dictate the finer points” of the Stupak amendment, and “managed to bully members of Congress to vote for added restrictions on a perfectly legal surgical procedure.” She concludes: “The IRS is less restrictive about church involvement in efforts to influence legislation than it is about involvement in campaigns and elections. Given the political behavior of USCCB in this case, maybe it shouldn’t be.”

Of course, Representative Woolsey is not the first Democrat to object to legislative advocacy by the clergy. Here is another:

It is an attempt to establish a theocracy to take charge of our politics and our legislation.  It is an attempt to make the legislative power of this country subordinate to the church.  It is not only to unite Church and State, but it is to put the State in subordination to the dictates of the church.

That was Senator Stephen A. Douglas (D., Ill.), on March 14, 1854. He was talking about an anti-slavery petition.  

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. With James Ceaser and Andrew Busch, he is co-author of Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.