Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars: In one of the many pedophilia lawsuits against them, having to do with known pedophiles in the priesthood not being reported to the police and in fact being re-assigned repeatedly to new dioceses, the Catholic Church is arguing that the case should be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. They’re arguing that the free exercise of religion clause means that the Church should be able to discipline their priests however they want, and assign and re-assign them wherever they want. They’re arguing that for the courts to rule otherwise would make the courts and the government “unconstitutionally entangled in religious doctrine, practice, or church polity.”
Okay. Let’s get this out of the way first: This defense is complete bullshit. A religious organization’s First Amendment right to run its own ship stops when there’s harm or potential harm to the public. Churches have to obey fire and safety codes; religious leaders can’t commit fraud or murder; etc.
That’s not my point.
My point is this:
They said that protecting priests who molest children is a legitimate part of their religion and their religious structure, a Constitutionally protected form of religious expression, an internal matter that they should be free to exercise.
And they think this is a defense???
If this defense were being mounted by anyone other than a respected, well-established religious organization, it wouldn’t just not be a defense. It would be an admission of guilt. They basically said, “Yes, we protect pedophiles from prosecution and move them from parish to parish so they can keep molesting kids for years. What business is it of yours? That’s a valid form of free religious expression.”
I think I’m going to be sick.