Catholic bishops: Birth control debate about ‘religious freedom,’ not access to contraceptives

US Conference for Catholic BishopsTop U.S. bishops on Wednesday formally made their fight against a White House mandate for reproductive services the church’s top priority, saying “this struggle for religious freedom” demands their immediate attention.

The statement, issued by the leadership of the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops, came at the end of a closed, two-day meeting and comes as some close to the bishops say the men are concerned that their campaign is faltering in the public square.

“This dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the church to provide them,” the statement read.The statement represents an expanded PR effort to oppose the mandate that most religious employers — like all employers– provide health care coverage for employees that includes contraception and sterilization, services forbidden under Catholic teaching. The new White House rule spells out which faith groups — primarily houses of worship — are exempt from the requirement.“If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,” the bishops’ Administrative Committee said.

The bishops will also in the coming days launch a broader PR effort about religious freedom, expanding to include not only reproductive issues but state and local laws they say reflect a chipping away at the rights of religious groups. They’ll go after laws requiring religious ministries to turn in illegal immigrants they serve, limitations on religious groups on college campuses, restrictions on religious groups renting public schools for worship and other issues the bishops argue add up to a trend. – WP