NY Catholics Protest US Bishops' 'Freedom' Rally Against Contraception Bill

A group of Catholics in upstate New York has threatened to cut off charity contributions to the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (USCBB) because of the bishops' decision to protest the controversial Department of Health and Human Services' Affordable Care Act.

The Act, which mandates that religious institutions provide employees with health care coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, has been fiercely protested by Catholic bishops in the U.S., but not all Catholics are against the bill.

"I believe that the Bishops do not speak for me on the issue of religious liberty. After learning of the campaign being promoted by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops called 'Fortnight for Freedom' I have decided that in good conscience I cannot support the stated causes for which my donation would be used," reads a form signed by Call to Action representatives from Albany, Binghamton, Syracuse, Utica and Buffalo.

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The U.S. bishops are strongly opposed to allowing insurance coverage for any form of artificial birth control methods, because such methods go against Roman Catholic doctrine. They are organizing a "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign, which begins on June 21, to promote religious liberty during the two weeks leading up to July 4. The USCBB hopes to raise awareness and convince President Barack Obama to remove such mandates from religious institutions in the U.S.

Earlier this month, a national protest led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society was held in 160 cities, including Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami. The protest attacked the Act, saying that it violates the Constitution's First Amendment right of freedom of religion.

The Call to Action organization of Catholics, which is gay-affirming and holds liberal stances on many issues in opposition to Catholic doctrine, describes itself as a "Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society." In a letter to the USCBB and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the group expressed its disagreement with efforts to protest the HHS bill.

"This campaign seems motivated by political concerns designed to protect the institutional church rather than its members and to use its members as a political weapon against its opponents," the letter states, referring to the "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign.

The letter continues, "We -- a group of Catholic laity -- will not be participating in this campaign. We do not want our funds to be used to promote the message of condemnation by the bishops and maintain institutional liberty while denying freedom of thought and liberty within the church membership.

"We urge Catholics, instead, to consider alternate giving during that weekend and donate those contributions to a parish food pantry, Catholic Charities or another charitable program. The message of the church needs to return to the promotion of a 'seamless garment of life.' This unbalanced message of condemnation and ostracism of those who disagree is imploding the church from within, and it needs to end."

Still, many supportive of the USCBB protest have insisted that the issue is not just about the HHS bill, but about the government interfering in religious freedom and telling Christians to follow legislation in opposition to their beliefs.

"I think there's a concerted effort on the Obama administration to chip away at religious freedom. It's really sad because that's what our nation is founded on – religious freedom," said protester Mike Lahey at a June 8 "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally event in New York. "And when we start chipping away at the rights of some, the rights of others will fall. It's a dangerous path to be going down."

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