Senator Kissel Says SB-1098 Unconstitutional

March 9, 2009

Opposes legislation that would undermine Constitutional religious freedoms
Senator John A. Kissel (R-Enfield) today stated his opposition to SB 1098, An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations. “This is an egregious attack on not only the Catholic Church, but by implication, all religious institutions in our state. It is in direct violation of the Constitutional right of a church to govern itself, free from government intrusion,” said Senator Kissel.

HB 1098, An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations seeks to revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church by requiring the establishment of a board of directors made up of parishioners to oversee church finances. Furthermore, the legislation provides that any person who believes the monetary contributions to the church are being used improperly may report to the Attorney General who may then investigate and take necessary action.

“This attempt to impose a new organizational structure on a religious institution clearly appears unconstitutional,” said Senator Kissel. “A church’s right of self-governance has long been upheld by the highest courts in our country and I firmly believe that this attempt to impose state authority on the Catholic Church will be defeated. The public outcry against this proposal has been unparalleled and the public hearing on Wednesday is sure to attest to the spirit of religious freedom that still lives on in our country and here in the Constitution State.”

In 1866, Connecticut enacted legislation to distinguish between the Protestant and Roman Catholic structures of churches. An 1897 Connecticut Supreme Court case, State ex rel. George Barry v. Getty et al, further supported the intent of the initial law and an excerpt of the decision reads as follows:

“It is the settled policy of this State to so frame its legislation that each denomination of Christians may have an equal right to exercise ‘religious profession and worship,’ and to support and maintain its ministers, teachers and institutions, in accordance with its own practice, rules and disciplines; and this policy is conformable to the provisions of our Constitution. Christ Church v. Trustees, etc., 67 Conn. 554, 565. In pursuance of this policy our statutes provide a scheme for the formation and conduct of corporations known as “ecclesiastical societies,” which may “hold and manage all property belonging to them, appropriated to the use and support of public worship, and may receive any grants or donations, and by voluntary agreement establish funds for the same object.” General Statutes Sec. 2051, et seq. This scheme is arranged with special reference to the customs of the denomination of Congregationalists, which prior to the adoption of a constitution formed a sort of established church; and while furnishing ample provision for the needs of many denominations, is not consistent with the customs of some. And so we have special legislation for “societies of particular denominations,” and among these are the Roman Catholic. This legislation is contained in Secs. 2092, 2093 and 2094 [now 33-279, 280, 281].” (emphasis added)

The Court further stated: “Such special legislation is not passed unless upon application of some religious body, and is intended to be framed in accord with what the legislature understands to be the peculiar customs and wishes of the applying denomination.” (Id., at 289) (emphasis added)

“Our country has a long legacy of protecting religious liberty and I feel that it is incumbent on me as a legislator to oppose legislation that would infringe upon that right,” Senator Kissel added. “While the embezzlement of funds by a priest in Darien is cause for concern, it is important to note that the priest was prosecuted according to current state law. The illegal action of one isolated individual does not merit disregarding a revered constitutional right- freedom of religion.”