U.S. Catholic bishops mull wider focus in birth control/religious freedom fight

March 13, 2012

(Bishops listen to proceedings during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Maryland November 14, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Facing small but clear signs of discontent within their own ranks, U.S. Catholic bishops may be poised to rethink their aggressive tactics for fighting a federal mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception, according to sources close to influential bishops.

There are no indications that the bishops will drop their fight against the federal mandate. But dozens of bishops, meeting this week in Washington, are likely to discuss concerns that their battle against the Obama administration over birth control risks being viewed by the public as narrow and partisan and thus diminishes the church’s moral authority, the sources said.

“They’re going to have to look at not just what their moral theology tells them they should do, but at what political reality tells them,” said Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and Georgetown University scholar who has written extensively about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “These are strategic and tactical questions.”

One sign of a coming recalibration: A sweeping statement on religious liberty, now circulating in draft form, that aims to broaden the bishops’ focus far beyond the contraception mandate.

The draft statement, slated to be released soon to a burst of publicity, condemns an array of local, state and federal policies as violations of religious freedom, said Martin Nussbaum, a private attorney who has consulted with the bishops.

The draft cites, for instance, a Republican-backed law in Alabama that makes it a crime to harbor, transport or rent property to illegal immigrants. The bishops have joined liberals in opposing that law, arguing that would make it a crime to minister to people in need.

By broadening their religious freedom campaign, the bishops hope to rally support from Catholics and the public at large — even from those who may disagree with them on contraception. The bishops see a need “to remind all their audiences that religious liberty isn’t just about in an election year,” said Richard Garnett, a University of Notre Dame law professor who works with the bishops. “We cannot let it be dismissed as merely having to do with one particular question.”

Read the full story by Stephanie Simon here.
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I think it is important for the bishops to frame the argument in both religious and constitutional terms. There is no question that this is a ‘freedom of religion’ expression. This Obama diktat basically forbids religious people from acting out their religious beliefs in the public square.

On the religious side it’s the first time I can remember where the bishops are showing some unity. They simply cannot abandon Church teaching so this may end up being decided in the courts……or in the streets.

Posted by IowaMike | Report as abusive

IowaMike, I would agree that the question is a freedom of religion,ergo a constitutional, concern. However,remember that the ‘rhythm method’ was essentially the first institutionalize birth control method on which the church slept and in many cases advanced. In other words, the Church need not stand on its ideological correctness because by the very nature of the Constitution they are correct.

And, in defense of Obama, the USA has long before him encouched on the religious liberties of the citizenry in the public square. But, now, we will not speak of the self proclaimed Witch that was enrolled in my spiritual direction class at a christian seminary.

Posted by glovergirl | Report as abusive

I see two comments here, both critical of our President (I wonder if these are really Americans commenting). There is also a photo of a bunch of good old white boys who have been living high off of American taxpayers to the tune of 2.6 Billion dollars a year in funds to Catholic “charities”. They want the freedom to impose their violent and hateful religion on me and I want the freedom (per constitution) to keep their religion off my body, out of public schools and out of my bedroom. I also want them to pay for their sins of raping so many children instead of filing bankruptcies and creating a fake distraction they sinfully call a war on religion.

Posted by luvofgaia | Report as abusive

Glovergirl: The word you’re looking for is ‘encroached.’

Posted by mamajosh | Report as abusive