Bishops take religious freedom fight to each state

Posted June 21, 2012

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— Roman Catholic groups on Thursday embarked on a two-week campaign of prayer vigils, rallies and other events to draw attention to what they consider government attacks on religious freedom.

Called the "Fortnight for Freedom," bishops organized the education campaign during liturgical feasts for martyred defenders of the faith. Independent advocacy groups such as and Women Speak For Themselves, have joined the effort with TV ads, videos, Facebook appeals and petition drives.

"To be Catholic and to be American does not mean having to choose one over the other," said Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh. 

While the religious freedom campaign includes protests against state laws and policies, the bishops' immediate target is the mandate President Barack Obama announced in January that most employers provide health insurance that covers birth control. Federal officials said the rule was critical to women's health by helping them space out pregnancies.

But Burbidge said a federal birth control mandate would "force Catholic institutions, if the mandate is upheld, to violate the principle of our Catholic teachings."

Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood, however, argues that the church is discriminating against its female employees by not offering birth control.

"(Women) should have access to contraceptive coverage. That is basic healthcare," Reed said.

Burbidge disagreed.

"It doesn't mean we are still not taking care of the whole person, but there are certain things we don't do," he said. "That is who we are."

Critics have accused the bishops of organizing the campaign as a partisan assault on Obama in an election year. But church leaders insist they have no partisan agenda and blame the timing on when federal officials approved the rule.

"In only the past few years, we've experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country," wrote New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in an e-book released for the "Fortnight" effort. Among the examples he cites are approval for embryonic stem cell research, legal justification for torturing prisoners and support for same-sex marriage.

"We can see that there is a loss here of a sense of truth and objective moral norms_rules of conduct that apply always, to everyone, everywhere_an infringement of religious liberty and an 'eclipse of the sense of God and of man,'" wrote Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Opponents are unconvinced. "This bishops' project isn't about religious freedom — it's about privilege," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "They are asking for preferential treatment from the government, and if they are successful, it would undercut the rights of millions of Americans."

The "Fortnight for Freedom" schedule kicked off Thursday night with a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore, celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori. Local activities are planned across the country leading up to Independence Day.

The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., plans Masses and repeat screenings of the film "A Man for All Seasons," about Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century martyr whose feast day is this week. The Kansas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, plans a June 29 religious freedom rally at the Statehouse in Topeka. The Archdiocese of Detroit plans Masses and lectures by religious liberty experts in English and Spanish. The Archdiocese of Denver has asked Catholics to fast on the two Fridays during the initiative.

Lori leads the bishops' new religious freedom committee. The panel was formed last September in response to what church leaders viewed as inadequate religious exemptions in many state laws that authorized gay marriage and mandated contraception coverage in employers' health insurance or prescription drug plans.

The Obama mandate on contraception coverage included a religious exemption that generally allowed houses of worship to opt-out, but not religiously affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and social service agencies. Many Catholics from across the political spectrum protested that the Health and Human Services department chose the narrowest religious exemption available and urged Obama to reconsider. Liberal-leaning religious groups generally supported Obama, while more conservative leaders from other traditions backed the Catholic bishops.

In response, the president said he would require insurance companies to cover the cost instead of religious groups. However, even some Catholic allies whose support was critical to passage of the administration's health care law, including the Catholic Health Association, have called the compromise inadequate.

Last month, Catholic dioceses, charities and schools, including the University of Notre Dame, filed a dozen lawsuits against the administration over the mandate. The law firm Jones Day, which is also representing businesses challenging Obama's health care law in court, is handling the cases for the Catholic groups pro bono.

Lori has said that funding for the religious freedom campaign has come from the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization and life insurance agency; the Order of Malta, a Catholic order that aids the sick; and the conservative Catholic publisher Our Sunday Visitor.


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  • lauraleigh Jun 22, 2012

    rasengineers - The issue at hand is "All women" being able to use contraception.

    What absolutely boggles the mind is that Planned Parenthood insists this is about "Women's health" - when the Pill is a Class One carcinogen, worse than cigarettes for contributing to cancer, the hormones are ruining our water supplies and creating environmental crises... but this is about HEALTH CARE???

    What bilge! This rhetoric alone demonstrates that Planned Parenthood is not concerned about women's health, but about unrestricted, consequence-free sex.

  • officebox Jun 22, 2012

    To the posters who believe this is a right... that someone should pay for birth control pills other than the person using them...
    Does your health insurance plan buy condoms for you?
    Seems prejudiced against men to me. Please someone get on this inequity in healthcare.

  • officebox Jun 22, 2012

    "all to take the attention off their other problem with children..."

    Actually not true. The Dept of Educ in a study published by the Amer Assn of Univ Women shows that 4.5 million kids in public schools (K-12) will be sexually abused. In the study, "educator sexual misconduct" was at 9.6%. So, the "problem with children" is much higher in the classroom than in any church.

  • Wiser_now Jun 22, 2012

    dcatz- that's just disrespectful and childish

  • rasengineers Jun 22, 2012

    Guess what,lauraleigh, married women use contrception, too. Are they cheapening themselves because they choose to plan their families responsibly? Doesn't the availability of contraception help reduce the welfare rolls that some many conservatives complain about? Isn't government support for inclusion of contraception in health insurance plans less expensive than public subsidation of unplanned children?

  • Wiser_now Jun 22, 2012

    Forcing businesses to provide any specific benefit is an attack on freedom - period. What's next? Forcing parents to feed their children only government-determined healthy food? Forcing stores to sell a particular product?

  • ss3510 Jun 22, 2012

    Q: Why was Nobody IRATE when the Bishops declared the Invasion of Iraq UNJUST according to Religious Doctrine...?

    A: go ahead Religious folks, EXPLAIN your drivel for us!

  • lauraleigh Jun 22, 2012

    Planned Parenthood's Melissa Reed deliberately misrepresents the issue, in the video. The Catholic Church is by no means trying to keep women from using contraception - This is not about ACCESS, but about WHO PAYS FOR IT.

    Also, the video is horribly misleading in another issue: The first "compromise" was to give the churches an extra year to comply with having to cover not only contraception but other things that violate moral theology - such as abortion. Then the second "compromise" was for the insurance companies to be required to add these things to their policies as a matter of course.

    But who in their right mind doesn't realize the insurance company will adjust their rates to cover these extras? So the Churches would, in the end, still be paying for things that violate moral theology.

  • ss3510 Jun 22, 2012

    The Government has NOT attacked Religious Freedom. Healthcare should be available to ALL Americans. And Contraception is a HEALTH issue on planet earth.

    Religion has actually over-stepped their bounds as they receive Tax Free status YET continually involve themselves in Politics (which is Illegal).

  • Zorg Jun 22, 2012

    "If they are receiving government funds from Medicare or Medicaid then they are performing a secular activity. They want it both ways - tax exemption, the right to discriminate - but still want the government money. It doesn't work like that.'