Catholic Bishops Start Religious Liberty Cmte Over Obamacare

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 3, 2011   |   5:05PM   |   Washington, DC

Because the Obama administration is likely going to finalize a recommendation that insurance companies be forced to cover birth control, sterilizations and drugs that can cause very early abortions under Obamacare, the Catholic bishops have established a new religious liberties committee.

Friday was the final day for groups opposed to the new mandate to issue dissenting opinions to the Obama administration and part of the concern surrounding it is that religious groups — like Catholic organizations — would have to provide health care coverage for their employees that includes the objectionable coverage.

Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has decided to establish a Religious Liberty Committee. USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York announced the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and Bridgeport Bishop William Lori will chair the committee. Dolan says the panel is needed because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking to force private healthcare providers to carry contraceptive and sterilization services.

Dolan cited the bishops’ responsibility to “protect our people from this assault which now appears to grow at an ever accelerating pace. 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.  If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave.”

The Committee will work with national organizations, charities, ecumenical and interreligious partners and scholars to form a “united and forceful front” to defend religious liberty.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue applauded the decision saying the bishops are right to be concerned about the policies of the Obama administration.

“To say that this administration disrespects religious liberty is too kind—it shows nothing but contempt for the “First Freedom,'” he said. “Bishop Lori knows first-hand how contemptuous government can be of religious liberty—he fought a prospective state takeover of the administrative affairs of the Catholic Church in Connecticut. Archbishop Dolan is also no novice: he has fought anti-Catholic bigotry for years. The Catholic League has worked with both bishops before, and looks forward to assisting them again.”

Today, the Cardinal Newman Society, a pro-life group that serves as a watchdog of Catholic colleges and universities, sent letters thanking Dolan and Lori for establishing the new USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

“Catholics concerned for religious liberty and strong Catholic identity in Catholic education certainly share our gratitude to Archbishop Dolan and Bishop Lori for this much-needed effort to preserve the Constitutional rights of Catholics,” said CNS President Patrick J. Reilly.  “Catholics nationwide need to stand in unison in defense of Catholic schools and colleges, charities, hospitals and health care workers, and all who hold the Catholic faith.”

In addition to the concerns noted by Archbishop Dolan, Catholic colleges and universities are facing other assaults on religious liberty. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina was found in 2009 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to have discriminated when it removed contraception coverage from employee health plans.