BRIDGEPORT, Friday, May 29, 2009, 3:00 p.m. – In United States District Court today, attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport filed a lawsuit against officials of the State of Connecticut Office of State Ethics (OSE), seeking a court order to stop them from an unconstitutional application of state lobbying laws.
These officials are requiring the Diocese – and presumably all other organizations – to register as a lobbyist in order to engage in activities such as a rally at the State Capitol or using its website to encourage its members to contact their elected representatives. Application of the law in this manner would subject the First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Assembly to government oversight and penalties.
First Amendment Response
Bishop William E. Lori stated today, "Following the surprise introduction of
Bill 1098, a proposal that singled out Catholic parishes and would have forced them to reorganize contrary to Church law and the First Amendment, our Diocese responded in the most natural, spontaneous, and frankly, American, of ways: we alerted our membership – in person and through our website; we encouraged them to exercise their free speech by contacting their elected representatives; and, we organized a rally at the State Capitol. How can this possibly be called lobbying?"
"This cannot possibly be what our Legislature had in mind when it sought to bring more transparency and oversight to a legislative process that has been corrupted by special interests and back-room deals. If it is, then it should shock the conscience of all citizens of the Constitution State," Bishop Lori added.
On April 23, 2009, the Diocese received a letter from Thomas K. Jones, Ethics Enforcement Officer for the OSE, stating that it was "the subject of an Office of State Ethics evaluation," which was "being conducted to ascertain whether the Diocese had violated [Connecticut General Statutes Sections] 1-94, 1-95 and 1-96 by failing to register as a lobbyist in Connecticut, by failing to submit all other appropriate lobbyist filings, and by failing to follow all applicable registration procedures."
The OSE claims the Diocese acted as a "lobbyist" by: participating in a March 11, 2009, State Capitol rally against Raised Bill 1098 (the unconstitutional attempt to reorganize Catholic parishes contrary to Catholic teaching and tradition); making statements on its website urging its members to contact their elected representatives to oppose Raised Bill 1098; and making statements on its website urging its members to contact their legislators to oppose another bill, Raised Bill 899 (regarding same-sex marriage).
"I certainly did not consider any of my or the Diocese’s activities in opposing Raised Bill 1098 and seeking religious-freedom amendments to Raised Bill 899 to be 'lobbying,'" Bishop Lori said in an affidavit filed in court today. "In undertaking those activities, the Diocese was merely defending itself from unconstitutional interference by the state. The Diocese was not seeking special treatment or financial advantages from the Connecticut legislature. Never did I imagine that our activities defending ourselves from a government attack on our right of religious self-governance would be met with another government action subjecting our Church to an ‘evaluation’ for those activities!"
"The Diocese is not a registered lobbyist and does not devote itself primarily to legislative or political matters," Bishop Lori continued. "Nonetheless, from time to time, the Diocese’s religious mission compels me and the pastors within the Diocese to take stands, consistent with our religious beliefs, on legislation that concerns the moral issues of the day, and to urge our parishioners to act on the basis of Church teachings. We communicate these messages to our parishioners through the Diocese’s website, in newsletters, at Mass and other religious services, and through a variety of other means."
The Diocese maintains that a court order barring the OSE from applying the lobbying laws to the Diocese in this manner is essential to preserving its First Amendment rights.
"I believe the OSE’s extension of the lobbying laws to these activities will interfere with the Diocese's ability to mobilize its members and, if necessary, to urge them to rally at the Capitol, in the event the General Assembly again introduces legislation resembling Raised Bill 1098 or otherwise tries to interfere with the internal workings of the Diocese or its parishes or to attack the Church," Bishop Lori said.
"I believe that an order from the Court barring Mr. Jones and his colleagues at the OSE from applying the lobbying laws to the Diocese in this manner is necessary to enable the Diocese to continue to carry out its mission without fear of incurring civil penalties, exposure to possible criminal prosecution, burdensome administrative requirements, and intrusive oversight by the State," Bishop Lori concluded.