The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has protested a state investigation into whether the Diocese of Bridgeport should be categorized as a lobby group for fighting a bill that would have forcibly reorganized the Catholic Church. The group argues the investigation jeopardizes the core First Amendment rights of both the Church and all state residents.
"The free exchange of ideas, which is a hallmark of our society, suffers when the state places hurdles in front of the free speech of any group," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT).
A press release from the ACLU-CT said that a “burdensome” state lobbying law requires that any rally sponsors who advocate for or against legislation be required to register as lobbyists when their costs exceed $2,000.
Registered lobbyists are required to provide the Office of State Ethics (OSE) with financial disclosure of any activities that might be regarded as lobbying, including any rally or statements on a website. Lobbyists must submit to OSE audits. Failure to register or follow the rules can result in fines that compound daily.
“These requirements deter individuals and organizations from exercising their First Amendment Rights when they are applied to political activities beyond those the courts consider lobbying,” the ACLU-CT press release said.
Commenting on the ACLU-CT’s action, Bishop of Bridgeport William E. Lori said their decision to join the case demonstrates it is “a matter of fundamental civil liberties that threatens the Constitutional rights of all citizens.”
"Holding a protest rally on the steps of the State Capitol and posting information on our diocesan website are not lobbying but an expression of our First Amendment rights of free speech. We welcome the support of the Nation’s leading civil liberties organization, and look forward to making our case against the misguided actions of the Office of State Ethics."