First Amendment appeals

First Amendment appeals

A group of New Hampshire Catholics, aided by two Tennessee lawyers, is challenging the agreement reached by the Diocese of Manchester with the NH Attorney-General. The group says the agreement to allow the state attorney general’s office oversight of the diocese’s handling of abuse allegation violates the First Amendment.

On the face of it, I think they’re wrong about the violation. While the government can’t dictate how people may worship, it can dictate matters of public safety unrelated to the conduct of religion. Hence, the state may dictate fire safety codes, building codes, workplace safety rules and the like. And if the bishop agrees, oversee the handling of abuse allegations.

As much as some of us may not like it when it concerns certain bishops, he is still the bishop and in certain matters he speaks for the whole of local Church and in this case I think he has the right to make such an agreement.

On the whole, I think, in my non-lawyerly opinion, that a lot of these First Amendment defenses by Church lawyers are lacking in substance and won’t pass muster. And it does more harm than good because it raises the wall of separation of church and state ever higher, giving anti-religious forces more ammunition to secularize our society and marginalize the religious ever more.

1 comment
  • If any other institution showed the same type of mishandling of abuse cases on an institutional scale, I think they would end up with the same plea agreement. And while I agree that intruding on the seal of the confessional would be bad, that’s a separate issue. The plea agreement does not let them impinge on confessions.