As promised, the country’s Catholic bishops are ramping up their campaign against what they see as attacks on religious liberties, particularly those of religious conservatives.
On Thursday the bishops released a proclamation that expands their concerns beyond those they’ve focused on in the past year — such as the White House move to require some faith-based social service groups to include contraception coverage for employees in their health care plans and a push to have them consider same-sex couples as potential adoptive or foster parents.
The document, which U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops staffers said last month was in the works, mentions objections to new local measures, including one in Alabama requiring churches to turn over illegal immigrants and another in New York City limiting the right of churches to use public school buildings for worship on weekends.
The document aims to stir patriotic longings and action this summer. It calls for “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” to focus activism and prayer on the issue of religious freedom from June 21 to July 4, what the bishops are calling “A Fortnight for Freedom.”
It isn’t entirely clear how this whole issue is resonating among Americans and what impact it might have on the presidential race. The bishops named concerns about religious liberty their top priority last year, but the topic didn’t gain traction until this year when several GOP candidates adopted the argument that the White House has launched a “war on religion.” Many Americans (Catholic and otherwise) joined the bishops in opposing the contraception mandate earlier this year, but public energy appeared to die down once the White House offered an alternative that was accepted by some Catholic groups.
GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has criticized the contraception mandate but has not been as vocal on the broader issue of religious freedom as have his former campaign rival Rick Santorum and primary challenger Newt Gingrich.
The bishops are not the only ones raising concerns. Religious liberty lawyers across the spectrum have said for some time that a legal collision is inevitable between the civil rights of gays and lesbians (to marry, to adopt) and the rights of religious groups that oppose same-sex relationships to refuse to perform certain services for them.
Participants in this week’s Q Conference, a group of progressive-leaning evangelical leaders meeting in Washington, talked about the contraception mandate and other religious liberty issues. Social critic and author Os Guinness drew applause Wednesday night when he said the solution wasn’t in “endless litigation.”