News / USA

Catholic Bishops: Religious Liberty Under Attack in US

The Roman Catholic Church says religious liberty is under attack in the United States.  The allegation is part of an effort by U.S. bishops against reproductive health care policies and government funding priorities that contradict church doctrine.

Bishop William Lori led the campaign at the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 14-16.

"For some time now, we have viewed with growing alarm the ongoing erosion of religious liberty in our land," Lori told the hundreds of bishops assembled on the opening day of the meeting.

Lori is chairman of the conference's new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.  It was created after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), canceled a $2.5 million contract with Migration and Refugee Services, a Catholic organization that helps victims of sex trafficking.  It was widely reported that the contract was canceled because the group refused to refer trafficking victims for contraceptives or abortions, in keeping with Roman Catholic teaching.

Lori sees the funding decision as part of a broader trend in America to limit religious liberty.  "There is a sort of aggressive secularism in culture and law that is tending to hem it in, to marginalize it, to make less accommodation for people of faith and institutions of faith," he says.

Bishops say their faith is also being threatened by same-sex marriage laws enacted in at least a half-dozen U.S. states.  

But they are fighting back.  They are lobbying to change President Barack Obama's health care reform to prevent millions of people working for Catholic institutions - including hospitals, schools and universities - from receiving free contraceptives as mandated by the new health care insurance law.  The bishops say the exemption that exists now - only Catholics working in diocesan offices do not have to be covered - is too narrow.

"We don't think that HHS or any government agency should be telling us what our mission is," Lori adds.

Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in the United States, and it has a long history here.  So for the bishops to be saying that their religious liberty is being infringed, is no small matter.  But critics say it is the bishops who are the danger.

Last year, the bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, Thomas Olmsted, excommunicated a nun for allowing a mother with health problems to have an abortion.  Sister Margaret McBride worked at a hospital where doctors say the condition would have killed the mother and the baby, if the pregnancy was brought to term.

"This is bishops gone crazy.  This is bishops gone wild," says Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.  "The idea that bishops are going to dictate what is happening in American hospitals and in health care systems is really a cause of great concern."

O'Brien recently testified before a congressional committee that 98 percent of Catholic women ignore the church's ban on contraceptives.

"The hierarchy, having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, is now using legislation and opt-out of certain services in order to deny people, Catholics and non-Catholics, the services they need," says O'Brien.

Bishops say that estimate is high.  But they do not dispute that they have a lot of "teaching" to do.

On a harbor promenade a short walk from the bishops' meeting, several Catholic women disagreed with the all-male assembly's view on contraception.

"I think that it is necessary," said Katie Rourke, 23.  "Teen pregnancy is definitely on the rise, and I have seen it happen to my friends.  People my age have two, three kids."

Jennie Marshiano, whose 5-year-old son clung to her side as she spoke, said that if women were allowed to be priests, birth control would likely not be an issue.  "We would not even be discussing it," she said.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs