Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Regulating The Church In CT - Unconstitutional Proposal...Or Is It?

I do not support the legislation that was proposed which seeks to regulate the way in which the Church governs itself in CT (and possibly other religious entities). I was sent this by a Catholic Connecticut attorney. The comments examine the question of Constitutionality of this outrageous move by chairmen Rep. Michael Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, of the Judiciary Committee in the CT General Assembly. It certainly offers some interesting food for thought.
While I find it an outrageous power grab on the part of the legislators involved, unfortunately, they are doing it Constitutionally.

Wanted to give you some background that addresses the question, "How can the state interfere with the church?"

The bill, Raised Bill 1098, actually only modifies existing law. There already was a law that regulated the Catholic Church (There are other laws similarly regulating other religious organizations). The bill adds additional burdens to that law.

The reason that the state has the authority to dictate what happens in the church is because the church filed for incorporation under state law (and probably federal too).

You see, throughout the first part of our history, religious societies simply existed as "churches". They were not incorporated. They were free to do as they please. The state, however, always had the authority to tax certain entities, including what were termed in our early history "franchises". That term meant, in essence, what we now call businesses, including, churches - actually, it meant pretty much anything other than individuals. However, certain laws were adopted that provided exemptions from taxation. In order to become exempt from taxation, one could apply for exemption from the state, through application to the state to "incorporate". (That's also why you see many New England towns that were "incorporated" on such and such a date.)
So, for a church to be exempt from taxation, it filled out the appropriate paperwork to incorporate and followed the rules the state established for those who incorporated.

Because the churches voluntarily sought the tax exemption, they incorporated. They essentially allowed themselves to be subjected to the laws established by the state regulating those who are incorporated. There are many state and federal laws on the books regulating those who have incorporated. The regulations place restrictions on what the entity can do and how it does it.

Raised Bill 1098 simply proposes to add more regulations (outrageous as they are) to the already existing law. Keep in mind, I'm not saying the regulations should be adopted. I hope they are not adopted. I'm only saying the state has the lawful authority to do so.

Now, it seems to me that if the church does not want to comply with the regulations, if they are adopted, then it could dissolve the corporation and continue to act simply as a church - free from any government interference. Of course, that would mean that the church would have to pay taxes, but it would not have to comply with the onerous conditions placed upon it by the laws relating to religious corporations.

It's the same theme involved in other issues...if you want the government benefit, you must abide by the government regulation...and that inevitably means you lose a certain amount of your freedom. The moral of the story, in my opinion, is...don't accept any federal money or benefit and retain your freedom.

While the Judiciary Committee canceled the public hearing, the Republican legislators are holding an informational public hearing in lieu of the Judiciary hearing so that those who re-arranged their schedules to go to the Judiciary hearing would be heard at least by some of the legislators, if not those in charge of the Judiciary Committee. So, I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this tomorrow.

Please keep in mind that while the intent of the chairmen of the Judiciary Committee was without doubt to involve government in a most intrusive and horrendous manner into the Catholic Church in order to be better able to influence the Church to accomplish their agenda, unfortunately, it is not technically unConstitutional in the sense that the Church voluntarily submitted to the government authority in order to receive the tax breaks.

The issue has been sent off for the Attorney General, Dick Blumenthal, to ponder.
We'll see how that goes.
One thing is certain - Public opinion sure doesn't support this measure.
4,000 people showed up on the lawn of the State Capitol today, and they were really outraged!
Personally, for this stunt, I think Lawlor and McDonald should be removed from their chair positions. We have far more pressing issues to deal with in this state than picking a religious fight.
One good thing - people will be likely be watching the legislature more closely after this.
Maybe some of them will even consider running for office.