Society Needs Religious Organizations That Transcend the Political
The Roman Catholic Church has been under veritable government attack in Connecticut, and its travails highlight the need for religious organizations, Catholic and otherwise, to be selective and to tread carefully with political activism:
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport sued Connecticut officials in federal court Friday, after being told it needs to register as a lobbyist to hold rallies and use its Web site to oppose legislation.
The move is the latest chapter in tensions between the Catholic Church and the state over issues including gay marriage, emergency contraception and giving parishioners more control over church finances.
As I’ve suggested before, the Church should undertake some institutional introspection and then strongly delineate its role in American society. Having done so, it should stand its ground, whatever tricks or overreaches government officials should attempt. That means proving itself not to be a lobbyist and providing concrete examples of its approach to society’s challenges apart from government intervention; the more religious and other groups permit of (even foist on) government, the more those groups are going to become petitioners, rather than coequals.
The dangers of a strategy that is more accommodating of big government initiatives are visible in the Church’s current legal battle in Connecticut:
The ethics office, the diocese says, is claiming the diocese acted as a lobbyist by taking part in a March 11 rally at the state Capitol against a church finances bill, which would have given church lay members more power over parish finances. The bill was actually withdrawn by Judiciary Committee leaders before the rally and officially killed a week after the protest.
The diocese also says ethics officials are further claiming that the diocese acted as a lobbyist when it made statements on its Web site urging members to contact their state lawmakers to oppose the finances bill and another bill on same-sex marriage.
Consider the precedents. In one instance, a powerful apolitical organization under unconstitutional attack from its state government held a show of its influence. In the other instance, the Church communicated how its teachings would apply to its members activity as engaged citizens. It tightens the totalitarian clamp to permit the principle that an aggressive government can require registration of and the imposition of lobbying regulations on its targets as they defend themselves.