Catholic Bishops launch national ‘religious freedom’ campaign

Pic by Ceridwn, via Wikimedia Commons

Catholic Bishops, one of the biggest opponents of the federal government’s decision to require health insurance companies to cover birth control as a preventive service, released a proclamation this week “calling for every priest, parish and layperson to participate in ‘great national campaign’ to defend religious liberty, which they said is ‘under attack, both at home and abroad,’” The New York Times reports.

“Religious freedom” has been the rallying cry among Catholic leaders who oppose the Obama administration’s decision. Despite an expressed exception for “religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees,” Catholic Bishops, Catholic hospitals, Catholic physicians and other Catholic groups have publicly expressed opposition to the exception because “it is too limited.” More recently, the feds even extended that exemption to religious organizations — including faith-based hospitals. These groups would not have to cover birth control themselves, but would just have to provide a way for women who want coverage to receive it.

However, a small group of religious leaders has continued to claim the government’s decision, which was recommended by the Institute of Medicine, is an attack on the religious freedoms of Catholics and others.

The Times reports that the Bishops are now hoping to get priests and lay members from all over the country to also admonish the decision:

In particular they urged every diocese to hold a “Fortnight for Freedom” during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, for parishioners to study, pray and take public action to fight what they see as the government’s attempts to curtail religious freedom.

“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” said the statement, issued by the bishops ad hoc committee on religious freedom.

In the document, the bishop seek to explain that their alarm is not only about the mandate in the health reform act that requires even Catholic colleges and hospitals to have insurance plans that cover birth control. They cite seven examples of what they say are violations of religious freedom, including immigration laws in several states that they say make it illegal to minister to illegal immigrants.

They also assert that the government has violated the religious freedom of Catholics by cutting off contracts to Catholic agencies. Several states have denied financing to Catholic agencies that refused to place foster children with gay parents. And the federal government refused to reauthorize a grant to a Catholic immigration organization that served victims of sex trafficking because as a Catholic group, it would not provide or refer women to services for abortion and birth control.

Last month, a judge ruled in favor of the Obama administration in a legal challenge filed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over that group’s loss of federal funding to fight sex trafficking. Federal officials explained they were not awarded the funds because they refuse to refer victims for contraceptives or abortion services, which they deem important for victims of sexual exploitation.

In the proclamation letter to Catholic priests around the country, the Bishops claimed that the laws were “unjust” and should either be either changed or fought, the Times reports.

Despite ongoing resistance from some religious groups, federal health officials have stood by and defended the decision.

The decision has wide public support, as well. Polls have found that 66 percent of Americans agree with the federal government’s decision to include birth control in its list of preventative services and a recent poll found that almost 70 percent of women believe the decision is a “matter of women’s health, not religious freedom.”

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Ashley Lopez

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