Alarmed by what they see as deeper government intrusion into issues such as reproductive health care and gay marriage, the nation's Catholic bishops have created a committee to identify and resist threats to religious freedom.
"Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider," New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan wrote Sept. 29 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
"If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave," said Archbishop Dolan, president of the USCCB, announcing the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
The committee, which will prepare a report for a November meeting, will address the Obama administration's rule requiring all private health insurance plans to offer free contraception - including abortifacients and sterilization, Archbishop Dolan wrote. The current religious "exception" in the regulations is inadequate because it doesn't cover those with "religious or moral objections to the mandate," he said.
Regarding gay marriage, the USCCB committee will push back against Obama administration legal arguments saying Defense of Marriage Act supporters - i.e., people who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman - are biased and prejudiced.
"If the label of 'bigot' sticks to us - especially in court - because of our teaching on marriage, we'll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result," Archbishop Dolan warned.
The archbishop added that although he and his predecessor as USCCB president, Cardinal Francis George, have written to President Obama about their concerns, neither received a response. "I have offered to meet with the President to discuss these concerns and to impress upon him the dire nature of these actions by government," Archbishop Dolan said in his Sept. 29 letter.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the USCCB, told The Washington Times that it was too soon to discuss the committee's action plans, but said it is "very targeted with a real sense of urgency."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and Family Research Council Action, praised the USCCB's actions.
"Religious organizations that do not follow President Obama's liberal agenda are under attack" and "an especially large target" has been drawn on American Catholics, Mr. Perkins said in his Wednesday online Washington Update.
"I welcome their renewed commitment to the fight before us. We are united in the fight for faith, family and freedom," added Mr. Perkins, whose organizations are among the sponsors of this weekend's 2011 Values Voter Summit.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said the USCCB's new committee is an attempt to "enact a belief system" on Catholics, even though they disagree with it.
Most Catholics support family planning, he said, but the USCCB is apparently willing to go to great lengths - hiring staff, a lobbyist and a lawyer for their new committee - to advance their "very narrow, strict" views in public policy.
Catholics for Choice is fighting to strip out the religious "refusal clause" in the Affordable Care Act, because Catholics don't support it, and it discriminates against everyone who works in Catholic schools and institutions, said Mr. O'Brien. This is serious for the Obama administration, he added: Will they "stand up to them, or give the bishops the pass they are asking for?"
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