Conn. attorney general criticizes ‘serious constitutional concerns’ in anti-Church lobbying inquiry

Bishop of Bridgeport William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport William E. Lori

.- The Connecticut Attorney General has called upon the Office of State Ethics (OSE) to abandon action against the Diocese of Bridgeport, citing “profound and serious constitutional concerns” in its investigation into whether the Catholic Church in the state acted as a lobbyist in opposing radical legislation that would have forcibly reorganized the Church.

A state bill proposing to redefine the financial and pastoral structure of the Catholic Church in Connecticut brought swift reaction from the states’ bishops and Catholic laity. Bishops made outspoken protests while hundreds of people were bused in for a rally at the state capitol.

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.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a June 30 legal opinion commented about the “profound and serious” concerns in the enforcement of lobbyist legislation laws against the Church.

Noting the “profoundly significant and far-reaching” constitutional questions, he said that the Church’s activities such as communicating with church members on legislative issues of “paramount importance” and holding a rally to protest government action were “clearly and unquestionably” protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The constitutional concerns have “special significance,” Blumenthal continued, because they arise in the context of a religious organization protesting “perceived government entanglement and intrusion in its affairs.”

Saying the “broad definition” of the law generated uncertainty in an area with little “interpretative guidance,” he added that there was a “most significant” and “intolerable” risk of “chilling constitutionally protected political expression by the Church and its members.”

Bishop of Bridgeport William E. Lori praised Blumenthal’s comments.

“Today's opinion from the Attorney General is a truly significant announcement that stands not just with our State's Catholics but with all citizens of the State whose fundamental civil liberties were placed in jeopardy by the application by the OSE of the State’s lobbying registration requirements,” Bishop Lori said last Tuesday.

“It is essential that citizens have the right to organize and communicate their views to their government without being required to register as lobbyists,” he added, characterizing the attorney general as “unambiguous” in his warnings about the chilling effects of the OSE action.

The bishop noted that the legal opinion recognizes the “particular care” the action merited because the diocese was acting against a “clearly unconstitutional proposal to interfere with the internal organization and governance of the Catholic Church.”

“We are hopeful that the opinion from the Attorney General will allow us to concentrate even more of our energies in meeting the increased demand for social services in our State. As a Church our mission is to preach the Gospel, teach our Faith, and celebrate the Sacraments. Our religious faith and mission compels us to affirm and defend persistently the dignity of the human person by word and deed.”

“As the largest non-governmental provider of educational and human services, we believe the Catholic Church is a critical part of the solution to our State’s economic and social challenges,” Bishop Lori concluded.

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