General Assembly Watch
The Secular Coalition for Connecticut is making a big push this year to get legislation enacted. We are concentrating on three bills.
The Patients' Right to Know Act
Most people assume that when they go to a doctor they will be informed of all reasonable options for care. This is not necessarily true, though. Doctors who work for Catholic hospitals, for instance, are not allowed to even inform patients about the existence of some procedures. This law will change that. It will not require doctors to perform any procedure that they or their employer disapproves of; it only requires that they inform their patient that such a procedure is an option.
Standardizations of Oaths
Connecticut is inconsistent as to whether or not someone is required to swear to God when taking a legally mandated oath. Where it's required that's not really enforceable, but it's a hassle to get an exception. This bill will standardize the state's oaths so they all explicitly have a secular option.
Aid in Dying
For several years now there have been repeated attempts to get a bill passed in Connecticut which would let terminally ill patients end their lives. We do not expect to get this passed this year, but want to keep the issue in our representative's awareness.
I haven't been keeping this page up, mostly because the Secular Coalition for Connecticut has taken the lead in legislative initiatives. We will be making a major push along those lines in 2017. We will be concentrating on three bills we want passed; Patient's Right to Know, Standardization of Oaths, and Aid in Dying. I'll be updating this page with details and activities throughout the coming year.
Another quiet year again (so far).
An Act Concerning Captive Audience Meetings
This is a bill which has come up every year except last year since 2006. In fact, I wonder if I just missed it last year. It prohibits employers from forcing their employees to attend meetings on certain subjects, including religion.
HB 6678 An Act Concerning Revisions to Department of Public Health Licensing Statutes.
This is a bill modifying (among other things) the requirements for the treatment of corpses by undertakers. One change is to provide an exception to certain procedures if they are "contrary to the religious beliefs or customs of the deceased person". I have nothing against making exceptions based on the desires of the deceased, but this should apply to everybody or nobody. It is discriminatory to allow wishes which are religiously based but not allow wishes which are not.
Surprisingly, there were no bills introduced in 2008 of special interest to us.
There are nine bills before the assembly which concern us, although two pairs of them are really variations of the same two bills. Three bills, including two which are variations of each other, are good. Five, including two which are really the same, are bad, and one is neutral on its face, but suspicious.
Updated after the CGA adjourned for the year
SB 1343: An Act Concerning Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault
This is the same bill that died in committee last year. It requires that emergency contraceptives be given to rape victims. The only reason there's any need for such a law is that Catholic hospitals have a policy of imposing Catholic religious taboos on all patients, regardless of whether the patient shares their superstitions. The Catholic Church is, as expected, opposed to following the same rules as everyone else, even though they have no qualms about accepting public funds.
This passed and was signed by Governor Rell. The Catholic Church managed to wrest a few minor concessions, but basically it survived intact, and rape victims will no longer have to suffer the effects of Catholic superstition.
These both prohibit employers from forcing their employees to attend meetings on certain subjects, including religion. A similar bill died in committee last year.
Neither of these came to a vote before the whole chamber, even though house version at least was favorably reported out of committee.
These bills would exempt religious texts from the sales tax. This is patently unfair. Since texts criticizing religion would not be exempt, it's effectively a subsidy giving financial support to one side, and only one side, of a theological dispute.
These died in committee.
HB 6883: An Act Concerning Exemption of Certain Religious Colleges or Bible Colleges from the Higher Education Licensing Process
This is another blatant case of religious exceptionalism. Its title pretty much sums it up.
This died in committee.
SB 1012: An Act Concerning Persons Qualified to Perform Marriages
This bill would permit out-of-state clergy to perform marriages in Connecticut. It wouldn't extend that privilege to any one else who's allowed to perform marriages in another state.
This died in committee.
HB 7351: An Act Concerning Textbook Loans
This would permit public schools to loan textbooks to non-public schools in the district. Personally, I think this is less of an issue than the other bills, since it applies to secular private schools as well, and it doesn't involve a public expense. Still, I think the effect would be mostly to allow relgious schools to enjoy the public schools' resources without having to put in the same effort to acquire them, so I would like to see this bill fail.
This passed, with large majorities.
neutral but suspicious
HB 5875: An Act Concerning a Public-Private-Parochial Education Commission
Supposedly this is just to establish a commission to study "funding and constitutional issues such as the separation of church and state", but why would they need a commission unless they were looking for away around the proscriptions in the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions?
This died in committee.
Once again the Connecticut General Assembly is in session. There are several bills up for consideration which touch on church/state issues. Surprisingly, this year there seem to be more good bills proposed than bad. Here is a review.
Updated after the CGA adjourned for the year
SB 445: An Act Concerning Emergency Health Care for Sexual Assault Victims
This is the one that's been in the news a lot lately. It requires that emergency contraceptives be given to rape victims. A law requiring this should not even be necessary, but certain Catholic hospitals have been refusing to do so. In other words, health care providers are not providing proper health care when doing so would violate the providers' religious taboos, regardless of whether or not the patient shares those taboos.
This died in committee. The Catholic Church put too much pressure on the legislature. At least several prominent politicians had come out in favor of it.
SB 19: An Act Concerning Notification to Prospective Employees of Religious Schools not Participating in the Unemployment Compensation System
Apparently, religious schools are not required to offer their employees the same benefits as other schools. In addition, it appears that they don't always inform prospective employees of that fact. The correct solution, of course, is to stop giving religious schools special rights, but in lieu of that they should at least be required to be upfront about it.
This passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Gov. Rell.
HB 5030: An Act Concerning Captive Audience Meetings
This would prohibit employers from forcing employees to attend certain types of meetings, including religious ones.
This was defeated in the Judiciary Committee.
HB 5162: An Act Authorizing Bonds of the State for the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry in Willimantic
This is a $143,750 grant to a faith-base initiative for building repair.
This died in committee.
There are seven bills before the assembly which I am now keeping an eye on, four bad ones, two good ones, and one I'm not yet sure about.
House Bill 6077, An Act Concerning the Serving of Alcoholic Liquors to Minors on Private Property
This bill prohibits alcohol from being served to minors without a guardian present, but it makes an exception for religious ceremonies. As I wrote to the committee, "to grant an exception to religions not enjoyed by any other segment of society is to place religious law superior to secular law". If secular kids should be alcohol-free, then so should religious kids.
House Bill 6540, An Act Authorizing Bonds of the State for the Institute of the Hispanic Family in Hartford
This is a faith-based initiative. It authorizes a grant of two million dollars to the Archdiocese of Hartford to support their Hispanic family institute.
Senate Bill 378, An Act Concerning the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools
This proposes adding the Transnational Assoc. of etc. to the list of accrediting institutions recognized by the state Board of Ed. I looked at this place's website and it's an unabashedly Fundamentalist organization. Its primary purpose is the promotion of superstition, not knowledge.
Senate Bill 508, An Act Concerning Health Insurance Benefits for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Infertility
This requires insurance companies to cover infertility treatments, "except where such coverage is contrary to the religious beliefs of an employer or individual". In other words, an employer would be allowed to impose his religious beliefs on his employees.
These both prohibit employers form forcing employees to attend meetings about (among other things) religion.
Senate Bill 53, An Act Concerning Authorization of Bonds of the State for the Preservation and Redevelopment of the Former Trinity Church in New Britain
It's not clear what is meant by "Preservation and Redevelopment". Are they planning to revive the church as a church, or just use a building which was once a church for other purposes? I've written the committee asking for more information.
House Bill 5037, titled "An Act Implementing the Governor's Education Initiatives" authorizes the payment of the Equal Opportunities Scholarship Program to qualified students. Subdivision (3) of Subsection (d) of Section 3 of that bill rightfully limits payment to students attending schools which are "free from sectarian control or influence". However, Subsection (e) of Section 3 essentially says that Subdivision (3) of Subsection (d) is to have no effect. In other words, a show was made of avoiding the subsidy of religious teaching, but no such avoidance is actually in the bill. The "Equal Opportunities" scholarships therefore become a form of unequal opportunity, providing a much greater benefit for believers than for nonbelievers. The fair thing to do would be to remove Subsection (e) of Section 3, and provide Equal Opportunities Scholarships in a way in which the opportunities really are equal.
Sometimes people do the right thing without having to be prodded. I recently came across an article in the New Haven Register about a bill before the General Assembly which would prevent the placement of powerlines within a certain distance of "a school, playground, preschool or day care or religious facility". I was going to complain about the gratuitous privilege being handed out to religious organizations when I checked the actual text of the bill at the General Assembly's website, and saw that it said "private or public school, licensed child day care facility, licensed youth camp or public playground" with no mention of religious facilities. I guess someone realized what was wrong with the original proposal even before I had a chance to complain about it.
In the 2003 session two bills we opposed died in committee. One would have placed "In God We Trust" in public classrooms. The other mandated a moment of silence. Another bill which perhaps should have passed was defeated due to lobbying by the Catholic Church. It would have made it easier for procecutors to investigate criminal activity being covered up by large organizations. We criticized the assembly for helping the Church avoid responsibility for its actions.