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February 7th, 2012
05:02 PM ET

Battle escalates over Obama rule for contraception coverage at Catholic institutions

By Dan Gilgoff and Lesa Jansen, CNN

(CNN) - The battle over a new White House policy compelling Catholic institutions to cover contraception in health insurance plans continues to escalate, with Republican presidential candidates denouncing the rule, liberal groups spotlighting Catholic support for contraception, and the Obama administration vowing to confront religious concerns head on.

"The president's interest is in making sure that … all women here have access to the same preventive care services,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

“He is also concerned about and understands the religious concerns that have been raised,” Carney said, stressing that the White House would work to see if “the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.”

Earlier Tuesday, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, David Axelrod, signaled that the president might be open to compromise on the issue.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”

But the dispute - spurred by a late January announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers, including Catholic hospitals and schools, will be required to offer free access to FDA-approved contraceptives like the birth control pill and Plan B (the so-called morning-after pill) through health insurance plans - shows no signs of dying down.

”Implementing the policy as is and allaying the concerns are mutually exclusive," Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday. "If they want to allay concerns, they need to change the policy. Nothing less will do."

Churches are exempt from the policy, which goes into effect August 1, and religious institutions that oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to comply.

The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the use of contraception, continued Tuesday to signal that it is intent on resisting the new policy.

“The bishops aren’t going to stop until this is fixed, and that means pursuing every legal means available to them to fix it,” Picarello said.

The flap was thrust further into the national political spotlight on Tuesday, as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attacked the new rule in his victory speech on a night that he swept primaries and caucuses in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

The administration had told American Catholics that “you have a right to health care, but you will have the health care that we tell you you have to give your people, whether it’s against the teachings of your church or not,” Santorum said in his Missouri speech.

“I never thought, as a first-generation American, whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and came here because they didn’t want the government telling them what to believe and how to believe … that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country.”

His GOP rival Mitt Romney has continually denounced the Health and Human Services rule in recent weeks.

Speaking in Loveland, Colorado, on Tuesday, Romney said the rule was “in violation of the religious conscience of (Catholic) organizations.”

“This kind of assault on religion will end if I am president of the United States,” he said.

A survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Catholics are divided over whether religious colleges and hospitals should have to provide employees with health insurance that covers birth control at no cost. Forty-five percent of Catholic voters support such a requirement, while 52% oppose it.

“Given how closely divided Catholic voters are over the requirement that religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, “it seems unlikely that this issue will galvanize Catholics nationally and seriously undermine Obama's electoral prospects with this important religious constituency.”

Planned Parenthood also released a survey on the rule Tuesday; it found that 53% of Catholics think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.

“The message to Democrats is that this is something all women deserve to have and that religion just shouldn’t be an issue with it,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, which conducted the survey for Planned Parenthood.

Over the past two weekends, the American Catholic hierarchy has distributed letters harshly condemning the Health and Human Services policy to be read at parishes nationwide during Mass.

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann wrote in a letter to parishes last weekend. “Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help rebuild America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.”

The rule has also drawn the ire of some influential evangelicals. “I'm not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure,” influential California-based pastor Rick Warren said in a tweet Tuesday night.

“I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a govement mandate that violates what God commands us to do,” Warren tweeted in a separate message. “Would you?”

- CNN's Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (1,120 Responses)
  1. Fired Up Mama

    “I never thought, as a first-generation American, whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and came here because they didn’t want the government telling them what to believe and how to believe … that we’d have a president of the United States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people of this country.”

    This is so maddening!! Republicans are "trying" to impose THEIR values on us. Telling us we can't decide for ourselves about abortion or who we wish to marry. That would be gov't telling us what to believe buddy. Complete hypocrisy. Talk about taking away someone's freedom!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Steve

      Separation of Church and State. Like it or not our founding fathers created a secular government with religious freedom for the citizens.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • lisa

      A lot of conservatives, myself included, are ok with abortions being legal and safe though we believe them to be wrong. That said, I don't want to see my tax dollars pay for it. That's the issue.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • janelle

      No one is trying to force their morals or anything else on you. It is your choice. What you don't have the right to do is insist that your employer have to pay for it. If you want birth control, pay for it yourself. If you want an abortion , pay for it yourself. If you want your employer to pay for it, then work for an employer who is willing to do that. No one is being forced to work for a Catholic hospital, school or charity. That is the employees choice. They can excercise their choice to find another employer any time they want. So if the employees have all these rights and choices, how come the employer doesn't? No one is being denied access to birth control or abortions, it's a question of who should have to pay for it.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  2. ciaobe

    To solve this issue: 1) Catholic Churches employers - could openly not hire anyone who chooses to use contraception - as with; maybe that should also be a question before they let you into the church on sundays. What they appear to be saying is that they do not want to offer health care unless you do not use contraception - which I believe 65% of those in the catholic church do use....What they are saying, basically, is if you don't have the same believes regarding contraception, they do not want to employ you...

    February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Steve

      Yes, you are correct. Religious organizations do not have to abide by the free speech requirement. They can pick and choose who they hire.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • lisa

      No – my understanding is that it has to do with providing services for those outside the church. Historically the catholic church has provided for those in need regardless of their beliefs but now, if they do that, then their employees would have to have this coverage. In other words, they can refuse the law but then their employees could not do the humanitarian work they do so well.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • ciaobe

      lisa - this is in regards to HealthCare provided to their employees - Under the newer regulations, Insurance would also include services/options for Contraception - (i.,e iud, pill) - If you are employeed by them, you would have this insurance, now if you choose not to believe in contraception, then do not use that portion of the insurance -- If you are not employeed by them then this would not apply to you -

      February 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Brian

    Europe had this debate in the Middle Ages. We have to debate it again because Europe's religious fanatics immigrated to America.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • janelle

      No, European countries had this discussion 20-30 years ago and decided it would be a good idea for their governments to the parent of all it's citizens, providing them with all they needed, and guess what? Today those countries are bankrupt and don't know what they are going to do!

      February 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  4. Burbank

    Everyone is overlooking the main point. A woman's right to choose. Just because the policy covers it, doesn't mean she has to use it. The Pope needs to stay out of people's bedrooms and worry about feeding all these starving children the world over that are born as a result of his idiotic, selfish policies. I wish people would just wise up and leave the Catholic Taliban in droves! Then these so called religious authorities would have to get real jobs like the rest of us! – From an Ex Catholic that saw throught the baloney!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      Actually the main point is if faith-based employers should be forced to pay for employee benefits that are diametrically opposed to their religious beliefs. Answer: They shouldn't.

      No one is interfering with a woman's right to choose, because she can always choose not to work for such an employer.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  5. krankydude

    What if a law in the future prevents a mosque from apply the sharia law according to their beliefs???

    February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Matt

    Joe – I'm afraid it is idiots like YOU missing the point. The government isn't taking anything away from anyone. They are not requiring women to take birth control. They are requiring that it be an option. The sheer ignorance of conservatives amazes me.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • William P. Robbins

      Thank you for making a logical sense out of what is very clear...no one is putting a gun to someone...it is a choice!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • longtooth

      They are being intentionally ignorant. They will pounce on any emotional issue that distracts people from the real issues.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • lisa

      Whether you like the Catholic church or not, they provide a number of humanitarian services for those in need all over the world. This law, with blatant disregard for the beliefs of this religion, will put a number of those services at risk. You need to stop name calling and get your facts straight.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • janelle

      No, no one is being forced to work for an employer that won't pay for their birth control or abortions. Any employee, male or female, is free to work for whoever they choose. The sheer idiocy of the Liberals completely amazes me! When did your employer become your parent, legally mandated to provide for all your wants and desires? If you want to use birth control, pay for it yourself, if you want an abortion, pay for it yourself. If you want your employer to pay for these for you, go to work for someone who is willing to do that. Everyone, including employers, have rights, and those rights include freedom to choose to not pay for your birth control, abortion or any other thing that are your choices.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  7. maggie

    The funny part about this whole Catholic objection is that a number of priests who work tirelessly to help the needy in third world countries have privately expressed that they wish that these families would use contraception. This is not a joke. Google it.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  8. Tonylkh

    I didn't know that the 98% of Catholics that use contraceptives were being bad Catholics.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Steve

      Actually it is 100% according to Santorum.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • DC Johnny

      Yes, and when you bet $10 on a football game with your friend, you are being a bad American for participating in illegal gambling and not declaring all of your income.

      Way to divert the debate to take a meaningless cheap shot against those who statistically lead a more moral life than you. Feel better?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • sam

      Johnny – 'more moral'? Are you serious?? LOL

      February 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Jeetu

    No one is saying that the religious freedom should be taken away. Just because the insurance is supposed to cover teh use of birth control, it does not say that anyone has to use them against their religious beliefs. Besides, surveys show that 98% of catholic women use these devices and if they are made available in their insurance, this is not going to change. However, it might mkae the use of birth control devices more safe and hence healhier for the women who decide to use these.

    Treating people differently to make available the options begs the question: are we americans in the first place and what values do we subscribne to. Afterall, do we want the religion to force people to act certain way? Is that not controlling them? I do think if we survey the catholics, we will find that majority of them believe in their right to chose if they want to use birth control devices or not.

    So I would suggest that either we require all insurance policies to cover these devices or none of them. We should not hide behind religion on this issue.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  10. TDiddy

    ALL women should have at least one abortion!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • schoolsub

      What if your mother had one, shortly after you were conceived?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  11. James

    The government has become a dictator. And those that blindly follow are no different than hitler youth of the 30s. Freedom is our last holdout.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Tonylkh

      You're being a drama queen nobody's freedom is being taken away.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • doofus

      so strip away the freedom of choices from the employee? if they were very religious employees, they wouldn't action that part of their benefits, but my removing the option, you are actually halting that employees freedom.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Ceile

    Do you really want to create a snowball effect that takes away our freedom of religion? I really don't think any of you want to go down that road. We NEED morality and religion! You just can't throw it down the toliet.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Morality and religion do not go hand in hand. Both can exist without the other.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  13. I don't care what your religion is

    If you are a Jehovah's Witness, you don't have the right to deny coverage of blood transfusions for your employees.
    If you are a Muslim, you don't have the right to stone your employees to death for committing adultery.
    If you are a Catholic, you don't have the right to deny coverage of contraception for your employees when that is the law for all other employers.
    We have SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE in this country, and you are not allowed to impose your religious beliefs on others. YOU ARE FREE TO WORSHIP AS YOU WISH, but you are NOT allowed to take away OTHER PEOPLE'S RIGHTS.

    GOT IT, TALIBANISTAS??!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • MerlinX4

      “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” – Thomas Jefferson.

      You guys keep using "SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE". I don't think it means what you think it means.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • jn0224

      So...are you ok if we don't supply ANY health care for our employees? No, I'm guessing you want to mandate that as well. Just let us know when you're done telling us what we can/can't do, ok?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • lisa

      You are also free to work somewhere else.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Praedor

      Uh, hello catholic church? When are you going to go all crazy about the fact that most of Europe, INCLUDING ITALY – home of the Vatican – has the SAME rules about providing contraception? Hmmmm? Why do you want to be religious dictators in America and impose your personal beliefs (nothing in the Bible about contraception I'm afraid) on NON-catholics? You don't want to provide religious freedom (includes freedom FROM religion too, by the way) to your NON-catholic employees, then I suggest you get out of the businesses in question. If you are doing something that falls under anti-discrimination guidlines/regulations then you don't get to force your religion on your employees in any way, shape, or form. You don't get to prevent them from "shacking up" if they wish, don't get to prevent them from having abortions, using contraception, etc.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  14. Eric

    I like how the church is complaining about the restriction of their "right" to restrict others of their own rights.

    It's still the individual's choice to use the contraceptive; you aren't forcing them to use birth control. If a woman decides that they want to follow their own religious values, then yes, they can certainly do so. This only applies to those that would like to use birth control themselves, and no one should be deprived of that if they choose to use it simply because the church feels that it may be immoral.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  15. schoolsub

    The teachings of the Catholic Church say that the use of artificial birth control and the performance of an abortions are sins. This recent regulation requiring the Catholic Church, as an employer, to pay for artificial birth control and abortions is saying that the Church should finance and support, what the church believes, is sinful activity. This just WON'T happen. You can write home on that!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @schoolsub

      I haven't seen abortion mentioned in the article or the specific law it's talking about. Could it be possible your just trying to inject controversial language in an attempt to valiadte yourself to people who think as you do? *GASP*

      February 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Tim59

      The Catholic church just doesn't see the need for contraception. After all, how can you get an alter boy pregnant?

      February 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • William

      "will be required to offer free access to FDA-approved contraceptives like the birth control pill and Plan B (the so-called morning-after pill)"

      Plan B = Abortion if you believe that life begins at conception.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • lisa

      I think the new law actually does mention abortions. That's easy to check but the point remains the same – this administration is throwing mud in the face of the Catholic church and it's wrong.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • B-Squared

      That is the crux of the argument which 99% of the people posting seem to be missing.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • GodPot

      "This recent regulation requiring the Catholic Church, as an employer, to pay for artificial birth control and abortions is saying that the Church should finance and support, what the church believes, is sinful activity." Wrong. It is saying that if you have employees, regardless of their religious affiliation, you must pay into their healthcare benefits since they have EARNED those benefits by performing work. What they do with their healthcare benefits is THEIR BUSINESS and this bill does not force ANYONE to use contraceptives or get an abortion. If you are unable to understand this simple concept please seek additional schooling because nothing else but an education is going to help you understand.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  16. Keith

    This is typical of the Republican party. Take a non-issue, cast it as an assault on religion or patriotism or family values, get the right wingnuts spun up. All the while they avoid doing anything to address real problems. The rule applies to church sponsored hospitals and schools, not the churches. If a woman does not use contraception as a means of birth control, that is her business. No one is being forced to use contraception.
    Instead of wasting time wailing about this red herring, I want our government to reduce the deficit and reform taxes. But that is hard work. It is so much easier to scream like banshees about some irrelevant side show topic like birth control and religion.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • William

      Just because it's irrelevant to you doesn't mean others share that view. To people who view birth control and the morning after pill as sinful demanding that THEY pay for it is wrong. It's not a case of "if you don't like it don't use it". They're being told they must provide it regardless of their religious beliefs. Pregnancy is a natural occurrence and is not an illness. Beyond preventing pregnancy birth control doesn't have many uses that aren't simply quality of life issues. They should have every right to refuse to provide coverage for it. It's about as medically necessary as botox and implants.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • MatK

      Exactly. A total non-issue distraction being made to appear like something it isn't to those too dumb, lazy or disinterested in reality to recognize the difference.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • MatK

      William, the Church does not get to impose its religious/moral views on its employees. It may not like how its employee compensation is utilized, but that isn't the Church's choice to make. If it wants to be an employer, it has to abide by the same employment benefit rules (wage, insurance, etc) as everybody else.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • GodPot

      "To people who view birth control and the morning after pill as sinful demanding that THEY pay for it is wrong." If you hired me to paint your house and after the fact I asked for the amount you promised and let you know "Yeah, I really need this paycheck because my wife needs an abortion." Do you get to say "No Way! I'm not giving you a dime to be used for an abortion!!"

      Sure, you can say that, and then get taken to court for stealing work from a hard working citizen you happen to disagree with. The money they are being "forced" to pay is money that is EARNED by the non-Catholics working for them, it's no longer YOUR money.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • The Ripper

      A lot of people believe it's not the Federal Government's job to collect taxes. Yet it you fail to remit, you go to jail. Just tell them you're Catholic and millions will get behind you, apparently.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • jLake

      @william I was actually prescribed birth control because I had ovarian cysts that were so severe I would get infections when they reptured and I had to go to the hospital in one case. Thousands of women experience this, too. So no, it isn't like botox at all.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  17. GodPot

    So let me get this straight, Catholic organizations have no problem paying non-Catholics to work for them and those non-Catholic's can take that money that was paid to them and pay for an abortion, go gambling in Vegas, buy medical marijuana, buy condoms or even visit a Nevada "Chicken Ranch" if they want to, all funded by the Catholic Church, but don't you dare tell the Church they have to pay into a healthcare system where some employee's may choose to use those health benefits to pay for contraceptives? Or am I missing something?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  18. DJC

    So this whole insurance must cover birth control thing is a violation of religious liberty huh? Ok I got one for you. The Watchtower Society is the organization behind Jehovah's Witnesses, and it employs many people at their printing presses at various locations around the country. Their faith prohibits blood transfusions. Most people who work at their locations are followers of the faith.

    Suppose a man works as a press mechanic for several years. He eventually marries a woman, has kids, later divorces that woman over differences of faith because she's Catholic, she gains custody of the kids and moves out, taking the kids with her. The divorce court decreed that the man must provide for the kids' medical insurance. One kid now needs open heart surgery that requires a blood transfusion. Should the father's employer provided health plan be able to deny the kid the potentially life saving blood transfusion?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  19. acura2010

    C'mon Catholics folks, "ya'll so worried over birth control and a woman body but the priests keeps raping the little boys"!!

    February 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • GodPot

      Can Catholic's choose not to have any of their donated money go to pay for pedophile priests defenses? I wasn't aware that was an option available when they pass the plate...

      February 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Burbank

      Little girls too, I was attacked by a pedophile priest at age 15 in my own home!

      February 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • GodPot

      "Imagine, if you will, a world where instead of paying out money because the Roman Catholic Church was complicit in the commission of child abuse, the church could have directed that money to charity. Imagine what $600 million would do for the sick, the poor and the elderly in Los Angeles? Covering up for priests is obviously a higher priority than caring for the most vulnerable in our society." – Randy Allgaier 2007

      I'm pretty sure the amount of money the Church is supposed to pay into the healthcare system for contraceptives doesn't come close to $600 million, and that was the amount that had been paid so far to the victims of abuse by 2007. I'm glad so many Catholics are proudly paying the victims of abuse since it's almost certain that none of those priests used any contraceptives while they were r a p i n g children.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  20. Joe

    I am afraid you liberal idiots are missing the point. Again, the government is stepping in telling companies and religion, you must do this. I am not a religious nut, but I hate seeing the fed's step in and mandate anything. You must quesiton, what will the fed's take away next?

    February 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • maggie

      Sorry Joe, its you conservative idiots who have missed the boat. 28 states already have the same law at the state level, several with no exemptions for religion at all.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Eric

      This doesn't apply to the church, it applies to companies that are associated with the church, including hospitals. There are many individuals that don't follow the catholic religion that are employed by these companies. If they choose to use a contraceptive, then they should have the right to do so. If other employees want to follow their Catholic church's ideals, then they can choose not to. It's really very simple, and it's a non-issue that is being spouted as an "assault" in a desperate attempt to skew voters to the GOP side of the election.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • ciaobe

      They do not "HAVE" to do it....Are you saying that those working for the church should not be able to have that level of health care provided? They can choose to not hire anyone who utilizes or would use the insurance for contraceptions...

      February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Lando

      Joe...let's say you or your sister are Protestants and happens to be employed by Mercy Hospital (a Catholic Health Systems), do you think it is fair for your employer not to offer insurance that covers medical contraceptives...think about
      it..

      February 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Praedor

      Do you realize that Italy (and a whole bunch of other European countries) have the same rules about providing contraception? You DO know that Italy, the home of the Vatican, is not getting hit by the hypocrite catholic church over the SAME rule there do't you? Why is that? Only a church ruled and run by men who cannot ever get pregnant (and alter boys who cannot be made pregnant by perverts, err...I mean "priests", would have a big thing against women, their bodies, and their liberty to NOT have catholicism forced down their throats even when they are NOT catholic.

      If you are running an operation that is covered by anti-discrimination laws (as is the case here) then you MUST provide contraception coverage. Why isn't the catholic pedophile church fighting like mad to conversely NOT provide viagra coverage too? Don't answer that because we all know why: ancient fossil priests can't get it up without viagra and the like to have roll with alter boys. No WAY they'd eliminate THAT gravy train.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.