Catholic bishops launch "Fortnight for Freedom" protest over HHS contraception mandate

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops launched their two-week Fortnight for Freedom program today, their latest salvo in the battle between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration over the HHS contraception mandate.  The effort began at midnight this morning in Baltimore, with a Mass at the Basilica dedicated to the effort to overturn the mandate and protect religious liberty.  It won’t end there, though, as LifeNews reports:

The Fortnight for Freedom campaign the nation’s Catholic bishops started against the Obama HHS mandate, which forces religious groups to pay for abortions and birth control drugs for their employees, begins Thursday.

The United States Catholic bishops are readying American Catholics for what may be the largest campaign of civil disobedience since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In addition to 12 lawsuits against the Obama Administration including 46 plaintiffs from dioceses, hospitals and universities, the US Catholic bishops are urging Catholics to openly defy the Obama HHS Mandate.

That’s actually a little premature.  Civil disobedience won’t take place until the Obama administration enforces the mandate, assuming it ever gets the chance to do so.  At that point, the civil disobedience will come from the Catholic organizations themselves, not from parishioners, in the form of refusing to comply or pay fines for non-compliance. The bishops are hoping that a massive protest now will force the Obama administration to reverse the mandate (or expand the religious exemption to all religious organizations) before civil disobedience becomes necessary.

To that end, the USCCB has begun sending letters out to parishioners in the Mass bulletins to get them involved in protests:

The most imminent threat to religious liberty—but not the only one—that the Catholic bishops have been protesting and seeking to draw public attention to is a regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The regulation will require virtually all health-care plans in the United States to cover, without any fees or co-pay, sterilizations, artificial contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

This month, the Catholic bishops are distributing an insert in church bulletins around the country pointing to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, and his defense of civil disobedience, noting that King, a Baptist minister, used the arguments of the Catholic Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to justify peaceful resistance to unjust laws. In the bulletin insert, the bishops made clear that civil disobedience may be necessary when freedom of conscience is attacked.

“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” says the bulletin insert.

“Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”

The USCCB isn’t alone in this effort.  A Catholic lay group, The Catholic Association, has a new television ad to make their case explaining that religious outreach is religious expression:

The Hill takes note that the final image before the splash at the end is that of … Barack Obama:

An association of lay Catholics will air a nationwide ad against the Obama administration’s birth control coverage mandate on Fox News Thursday.

The move serves to highlight a two-week effort by U.S. Catholic bishops to build momentum against the mandate, which some have argued violates religious freedom. …

“We are Catholics. Together, we are the church. … We will defend our right to practice our faith free from government coercion,” the Catholic Association ad’s narrator says over a photo of President Obama.

The article also includes this non-sequitur:

The debate puts the church in a tough spot because polls show that the vast majority of Catholic women use and support birth control.

Er … so? Churches don’t poll on doctrine, but even that’s beside the point.  The issue here isn’t whether women should have access to birth control.  It’s whether religious organizations should be forced to provide contraception and sterilization, either by funding it or providing free access to it.  That is the issue at hand.

We will keep a close eye on the Fortnight.  This ad is very effective, and aims at the same motive behind the USCCB effort — which is to rally Catholics together to support religious liberty in the face of government intrusion.  How effective will this be?  Effective enough to have the Huffington Post and St. Louis Dispatch hyperventilating over the funding for the effort.

Stay tuned.

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