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BRIDGEPORT-SUIT Jun-1-2009 (450 words) xxxn

Bishop Lori: Connecticut officials trying to limit church's freedoms

By Catholic News Service

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CNS) -- Saying its First Amendment rights are being violated, the Diocese of Bridgeport is seeking a court order to stop state officials from what it calls "an unconstitutional application of state lobbying laws" to church activities.

Diocesan lawyers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hartford May 29 asking that a decision by the Connecticut Office of State Ethics determining the Bridgeport Diocese was subject to laws governing lobbying organizations be overturned.

The decision stems from the diocese's involvement in organizing a March 11 rally at the Connecticut Capitol in Hartford to oppose a bill that would have given laypeople financial control of their parishes.

The church maintained that such a law would have been contrary to canon law.

"The lobbying law of Connecticut is being used to limit free speech, to limit assembly, to limit freedom of religion," Bishop William E. Lori said in announcing the lawsuit in a video posted on the diocesan Web site.

In a May 30 letter to Catholics across the diocese, Bishop Lori said that the state's announcement came as a "shock" and that the church in Bridgeport had no choice but to act to protect its constitutional rights.

"Let's be clear: We violated no law," Bishop Lori wrote. "We acted in response to an outrageous proposal that was imminently pending review and threatened to impose dramatic and blatantly unconstitutional requirements on our church.

"Unfortunately, this new action cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to muzzle the church and subject our right of free speech to government review and regulation," he added.

The bishop said the diocese's attempt to stop the bill from being passed by the Legislature was protected by the First Amendment. The diocese also had asked people to contact their legislators asking them to oppose the bill.

The legislation, introduced March 5, was proposed by a group of Catholics concerned about the management of parish funds following the embezzlement conviction of a Connecticut priest. At the request of its proponents, the bill was withdrawn.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Bishop Lori said the "diocese is not a registered lobbyist and does not devote itself primarily to legislative or political matters."

"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 issue of the day and to urge our parishioners to act on the basis of church teachings," he said.


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